Through: Michelle Strange, MSDH, RDH
Unfortunately, despite the emphasis on infection prevention as ‘prevention’, it is inevitable that infection control breaches occur from time to time.
The handling of these incidents can have major consequences for patients, staff and the dental practice itself. You may be tempted to just sweep it under the rug or put the blame on someone else, but adhering to established protocols is the best and safest approach to managing infection control breaches.
How do infection control breaches occur?
Infection control breaches can occur at any step of the dental process. But usually accidents are known during the cleaning and sterilization process of patient care equipment†
A notable incident occurred at a Florida College of Dental Medicine involving more than 1,100 patients. All thousand of these patients had to be notified of the possibility of contracting a blood-borne disease as a result of a worker’s failure to adhere to proper sterilization measures during workup.
While embarrassing to say the least, shame aside, this violation could lead to more significant consequences, such as the possibility of a patient contracting a life-threatening illness from an otherwise routine dental procedure.
As a dental care provider with an already busy schedule of running the office, taking on the role of infection control coordinator or ICC can mean stretching yourself and overlooking specific aspects of procedures or protocols. Dropping the ball on any element of infection control may result in fouls.
While infection control errors do occur, even with the right protocols, having an ICC to constantly monitor and supervise can greatly reduce the likelihood of them occurring. If an incident occurs, an ICC also knows what measures to take to mitigate the risks.
It is the infection control coordinator’s responsibility to work with dental clinicians and office managers to determine what happened, initiate post-exposure protocols, and conduct controls to prevent a similar breach in the future. They will also work with PR teams and use their expertise to provide patients and the general public with the right level of assurance, thereby reducing reputational damage.
Designating an ICC in your office can help build a work culture of safety rather than one of blame. With the latter, it is possible that certain violations do not even come to light, because employees are afraid of possible consequences. Whereas with a work environment that puts safety first and encourages transparency, errors can be easily identified, corrective action can be taken and action taken to prevent a similar incident in the future.
Prioritizing dental infection control training is the most efficient strategy for limiting exposure and risk. As an employer, it is your responsibility to ensure that your staff has the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their duties safely while monitoring patient safety. This training should be made available to new employees as soon as they begin tasks that may expose them to a risk of injury or illness.
In addition, training is required at least once a year or during the execution of new tasks and procedures. Staff need to understand why infection control should be taken seriously and that everyone on the team is responsible for protecting each other. Employees should be informed about IC protocols, including what to report and who to report in the event of an incident.
Most likely, an ICC will be the most qualified person to provide this training as they are well versed in all aspects of infection control and prevention including epidemiology, blood borne pathogens, immunization and post-exposure prophylaxis. Your ICC is also the best source for infection control information in the office, as they have developed and implemented all control protocols in-house.
Awareness of equipment safe handling procedures and required processes is a necessary part of cultivating a safety culture. It is essential to use appropriate safety equipment and follow recommended protocols to minimize the risk of exposure to infection. The ICC, as well as the rest of the workforce, can achieve this through adequate training.
With a qualified infection control coordinatorHazardous or harmful breaches can be minimized or even prevented, protecting your staff and patients from healthcare-associated infections, ultimately creating an environment for safe dental visits.
Michelle Strange, MSDH, RDH, brings more than 20 years of experience in her numerous roles in dentistry. She is a graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences and the University of Bridgeport with a master’s degree in dental hygiene education. She is focused on expanding her colleagues’ knowledge in all aspects of healthcare. Strange’s passion for dentistry and its connection to overall health extends to her community and global efforts. She is currently the co-founder and co-host of the longest-running dental hygienist podcast, A Tale of Two Hygienists, the co-founder of Level Up Infection Prevention and TriviaDent, a practicing dental hygienist, and customer success manager for MouthWatch.
Next one: How One Bad Experience Can Ruin Your Practice?