By Leslie Canham, CDA, RDA
Patients today are well informed when it comes to infection transmission. Whenever there is an outbreak of an infectious disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and public health agencies promptly disseminate information to the public. These immediate media announcements raise public awareness and help health-care providers respond to outbreaks.
Occasionally there are stories in the news or on the Internet about outbreaks due to breaches in infection control in dentistry. The Internet also provides our patients with access to information about what infection control should consist of in a dental office. This new patient awareness and knowledge of infection control requires that we continually demonstrate adherence to infection control protocols. Here are a few tips to help you check your infection control image.
What image does your practice convey about your commitment to infection control? First impressions are formed within a few minutes, so what patients see when they visit your practice for the first time can convey a message about infection control. Of course, we want that message to be that patients are safe in our care. Think about what new patients see when they drive into your parking lot. Are the grounds around your office kept up? How is the appearance of the sign, landscaping, parking lot, and entryway to your office?
When patients enter your office do they see a reception area with comfortable furniture, clean carpets, and a selection of current magazines? Or are the furniture and carpets in need of cleaning or replacement? Are the magazines outdated, torn, or scattered around the room? Infection control image starts in the reception area. One way to convey the importance of infection control is to make sure there are facial tissues, a lined wastebasket for discarding the tissues, and a container of alcohol hand sanitizer available for patient use. This shows that the practice takes steps to reduce germ transmission. Also be sure to regularly check the appearance and cleanliness of the patient restroom.
When the business team greets patients, are team members dressed in business attire, clinical attire, or casual clothes? Many dental consultants agree that business attire for the administrative team helps convey a professional image and is conducive to successful treatment coordination and financial arrangements.
The clinical team should wear appropriate protective attire and a clinical jacket. Wearing a clinical jacket protects employees’ skin and clothing from splashes of blood, body fluid, or other potentially infectious material. Wearing appropriate clinical attire and using personal protective equipment conveys an image of infection prevention, safety, and compliance with regulations.
Treatment room, sterilization room, lab, and staff lounge image
When patients are escorted from the reception area to the treatment room, what areas of the office do they see? Do they pass treatment rooms, the sterilization room, lab, or staff lounge? If so, are these areas clean and organized? If the treatment room has not been processed for the next patient, are bloody items visible? Are the countertops cluttered with nonessential items? Is the sterilization room clean and orderly, or are used instruments visible? If so, could they be removed from patient view or covered until they can be processed? If the office lab or staff lounge are visible, are they neat and orderly?
Instruments can sometimes become discolored or damaged, which may make them look unclean to patients. When processing instruments, make sure that the instruments are cleaned, dried, wrapped, and sterilized properly to prevent discoloration and pitting. After cleaning instruments, carefully inspect for any leftover debris, blood, or dental materials. These organic and inorganic materials can inhibit proper sterilization. Periodically go through all your patient care items to inspect for damage. Make sure the appearance of these items meets your approval, and consider replacing them if they are dirty or broken.
What does your practice image say about your commitment to infection control? By keeping up the appearance of the office, team members, and patient care items, you send the right message to patients. Your image should convey your commitment to health and safety. When you bolster patients’ confidence in you as a dental professional, you increase trust, and that translates to successful, long-term patient relationships.
Leslie Canham is a dental speaker and consultant specializing in infection control and OSHA compliance. She has more than 36 years of experience in dentistry. Canham is the founder of Leslie Canham Seminars, providing in-office training, mock inspections, consulting, and online seminars and webinars to help the dental team navigate state and federal regulations. Reach Canham at (888) 853-7543 or Leslie Canham.