A Lesson Learned in a Pandemic

pandemic

India R. Chance, BSDH, RDH
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pandemic

These are interesting times we are living in. Between a global pandemic, the political climate, and major social issues, we have still had to continue keeping our dental practices open, managing staff, and caring for our patients, no small feat, to say the least. I have had the opportunity to work with many dental practices during this time and one of the biggest lessons I have learned is that every single dental practice needs to implement the role of an infection control coordinator (ICC). You are possibly wondering why or, maybe not, since the pandemic has already brought you some awareness as to why you might need one. One thing is for sure, having an ICC in your practice has many benefits, and some might even surprise you. Read on as I share the top 5 reasons why every dental practice needs an ICC and how this role could potentially save you a lot of time and money.

Reason 1. Avoid a “Doctor Down Day”

ICCs have a lot of responsibilities, but the most important one is to manage the infection prevention program. It is no small task as it includes everything from maintaining appropriate regulatory and guidance documents to overseeing clinical equipment maintenance. The latter brings us to the first reason why every dental practice needs an ICC: avoiding a “doctor down day.” Doctor down day is not a common term, but it basically refers to the loss of valuable production time. Pretty much every dental practice has experienced this at least once, and the effect it can have on a patient schedule can be disastrous. Having an ICC oversee equipment maintenance can help avoid issues that could arise from malfunctioning equipment and cause slower workflows and production loss.

Reason 2. Reduce Expenses

As a dental practice owner, it can be a balancing act to deliver quality dentistry and stay within a budget. With the exorbitant costs of dental supplies since the start of the pandemic, now more than ever, it is essential to be able to maintain compliance within a budget. Unfortunately, although supply chains have been restored, it doesn’t look like supply costs are returning to pre-pandemic pricing.

So, what can we do?

The answer: implement an ICC into your practice. This role is responsible for organizing workflows and standard operating procedures that help to reduce expenses and save time. The ICC can streamline protocols such as creating a system that regulates ordering supplies to eliminate overbuying or waste. They can execute protocols that train teams to use supplies more wisely and still maintain compliance. For instance, having clinical team members wear the OSHA-required utility gloves when “turning over” their operatories and reprocessing their contaminated instruments can significantly reduce the number of exam gloves used per patient. With the rising costs of gloves, that one modification can potentially save a dental practice thousands annually.

Reason 3.
Escape Temping Disasters

Since the pandemic, there has been a considerable shortage of clinical team members, and employing guest dental hygienists and dental assistants has been at an all-time high in some areas across the United States. Although having the patient schedule covered can prevent the loss of production, employing temporary team members can be pretty hectic and can double your workload. Sometimes it is a lottery, and you never know who will be arriving that day. Are they a new graduate or a seasoned clinician?

Do they know how to use all of the equipment in your practice? Do they know how to perform infection prevention protocols properly? We often have no idea who will show up, and we hope they at least know how to pick up an instrument. I once heard of a practice that employed a guest hygienist who was not familiar with the type of piezo system the practice used and ended up breaking the equipment, costing the practice owner several thousand dollars in repair costs.

Now think about it from the temporary clinician’s perspective. They walk into the office and have no idea where anything is located, nor do they know your practice protocols. And then what happens? They run late for every appointment, the existing team is frustrated as well as the temporary clinician, and sometimes there are even patient complaints.

Who wants to deal with that when you can implement an ICC to avoid temping disasters. The ICC can create a quick protocol that includes a one-page overview of the practice workflow, locations of supplies, the patient journey, and overall daily operations for the patient schedule. I suggest adding a quick tour to ensure that the temporary clinician is clear how things operate in your practice.

Remember, a lot of these clinicians visit various practices with different protocols. This one addition can help avoid incidents and ensure that compliance is maintained regardless of who is working for you for the day.

Reason 4. Maintain a Strong Infection Control Program

One of the biggest pain points I see when speaking to practice owners about compliance is the fact that it can be overwhelming and confusing. Sometimes it is as simple as not knowing where to start or as complicated as starting from scratch every time there is staff turnover. Having a properly trained ICC who can create and manage an infection control (IC) program strengthens the program’s sustainability regardless of changes among team members.

A strong IC program also enables new hires to be trained effectively in the practice’s infection control protocols and gets them to work more quickly. According to the Brandon Hall Group, a research and analyst firm focused on talent acquisition, a strong onboarding program can “decrease time-to-productivity by up to 70%,”  decreasing the burden of working short-staffed. Lastly, it is essential to have a sustainable program to avoid infection control breaches whenever there is staff turnover.

I have visited many practices where owners are unsure of the IC program status and therefore do not know if the compliance program has been maintained. This can be very detrimental from a risk management standpoint should your practice ever experience an inspection from a legal entity. A strong IC program implemented among the entire team helps prevent breaches when a new team member is hired should he or she be the one taking on the ICC role. 

Reason 5. Differentiate and Get New Patients

Since the pandemic began, patients are now more aware than ever when it comes to infection control. They are asking questions, researching online, and watching us like hawks. With the advent of the internet, patients are more educated, and their dental IQ is much higher. They want to know they are in a sanitary environment and that we are safely delivering dentistry. Having an established and well-organized IC program allows you an opportunity to promote and shine a light on your dental practice.

It offers you a moment to highlight your stringent protocols and the lengths to which you are going to protect your team and patients. One way to share what you are doing is to record a video of all of the infection control protocols being implemented throughout the practice and share it on your website and/or social media channels. This approach could potentially calm the fears of new patients and increase referrals from existing patients. Either way, it is a win-win.

The goal of the ICC role is to create a dental practice that is championing infection prevention. We all have a role in fighting against pathogens and making our workplaces safer.

The pandemic has been dreadful, but the silver lining is we now know better, and when you know better, you do better.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ms. Chance is a registered dental hygienist, certified compliance consultant, and authorized OSHA trainer providing continuing education courses on infection prevention and safety in the workplace environment. She owns Learn2Prevent, LLC, a compliance company that supports dental practices in meeting compliance requirements for OSHA, HIPAA, and infection control, and co-owns Level Up Infection Prevention, LLC, a company that provides resources to ICC roles.

Currently, she serves as a CDC Inspector for the Maryland State Dental Board, Maryland State Dental Association Foundation Board Member, Dentsply/Sirona KOL Infection Prevention Speaker, and a Brand Ambassador for Dimensions of Dental Hygiene.

She can be reached at info@learn2prevent.com.

Disclosure: Ms. Chance reports no disclosures.