Lessons From the H1N1 Flu Epidemic

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)