The H1N1 flu epidemic has lessons to offer healthcare providers, as the limited supply of vaccine initially left pregnant women, small children with medical conditions, and other high-risk groups waiting in long lines. The problems encountered in reaching certain populations apply to the provision of dental care as well as other disciplines. An editorial in the journal Anesthesia Progress discusses the inequities of the healthcare delivery system that became apparent in the distribution of the H1N1 flu vaccine. Early distribution did not adequately address certain high-risk groups, such as those who are homebound or have physical or mental impairment making them unable to wait in long lines. Meeting the dental needs of these high-risk groups also poses a challenge for dentists. Special needs patients are too often overlooked by dentists because of a lack of experience managing this type of patient. The author asserts that, “the addition of a highly skilled mobile ambulatory general anesthesia practitioner can transform a dentist’s office into a fully monitored mini-operating room.” This would allow dentists to provide safe, high-quality care to people who cannot otherwise cooperate with treatment. The advanced training of a dental anesthesiologist already requires extensive experience in providing ambulatory general anesthesia to dental patients with special needs. New ultra-short-acting drugs offer a rapid recovery, allowing office efficiency for dentists and cost savings for patients. Finding different avenues to meet the needs of special populations is a lesson for government and medical communities. The solutions found in the dental profession may provide a model. The author also notes positive changes in the healthcare community and beyond because of the H1N1 flu epidemic. Much as the impact of the HIV/AIDS virus spawned the wearing of gloves and other protective equipment by dental professionals, this epidemic is also bringing about transformations. These include a better awareness of hygiene and improved measures, such as hand washing, that will decrease the spread of illness.
(Source: Anesthesia Progress news release, April 21, 2010)