Why Your Practice Needs an Infection Control Coordinator
Leslie E. Grant, DDS, MSPA
Infection control is not new to dentistry, but what has changed in recent years are the increasingly complex government guidelines, a growing awareness of liability exposure, and a public that is increasingly cognizant of, and concerned about, infection control breaches in medical and dental facilities. The potential risk is enormous. Practitioners invest years of training, decades building a practice and patient relationships, and thousands of dollars on marketing and advertising, yet one significant infection control breach could bring everything to a halt.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlined a solution in its Summary of Infection Prevention Practices in Dental Settings: Basic Expectations for Safe Care when it recommended that every dental practice have a written exposure control plan and an infection control coordinator (ICC)—a person whose job includes staying up to date on infection control and prevention best practices, monitoring the products and techniques used, overseeing the practice’s exposure control plan, providing safety training to new employees, serving as a resource for all staff, and communicating the importance of proper procedures to both staff and patients.
Staying in compliance with regulations and ensuring patient and staff safety can be complicated, but the key is assigning an individual in the practice the responsibility for coordinating an individualized, written infection control program. The dentist and staff cannot afford to leave any room for chance when it comes to infection control.
Importance of an Infection Control Coordinator
Infection control breaches create tremendous liability and potential for harm and can jeopardize licensure. Therefore, the CDC recommends that every practice have an ICC, as assigning oversight responsibility to one individual helps improve compliance and provide continuity. Further, an ICC can aid in developing the exposure control plan, safety training for new employees, and other essential tasks. The presence of an ICC within the practice can also add to the level of assurance for patients, who often look for visible evidence of infection control and safety practices.
The Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) assists dental practices in implementing this essential strategy. OSAP is a global community of clinicians, educators, consultants, researchers, and industry representatives who advocate for safe and infection-free delivery of oral healthcare. The organization focuses on strategies to improve compliance with safe practices and on building a strong network of recognized infection control experts. OSAP has created a wide range of resources to help dental practices deliver safe care to patients and support ICCs.
Selecting an Infection Control Coordinator
The ICC should be a staff member who shows attention to detail, willingness to learn, and an interest in infection control. A job description should be created that outlines the ICC’s responsibilities; OSAP’s website (www.osap.org) provides examples that can be imitated. The candidate should be counseled on the importance of the ICC role, and he or she should be provided access to training and implementation resources (which can be facilitated through OSAP membership). The dentist should meet with the staff to reinforce the practice’s commitment to infection control, review the role of the ICC, and delineate others’ responsibilities. The ICC’s schedule should have time allotted to successfully implement the infection control program.
The OSAP website offers a number of valuable resources to the ICC, including news updates on emerging diseases, outbreaks, and changes to regulations and guidelines. Also available are toolkits and checklists that organize regulations and guidelines, best practices, instructional resources, and patient materials, as well as downloadable relevant materials from the CDC, OSHA, and other agencies. The ICC may consult “Ask OSAP,” which delivers written, referenced answers to infection control questions. Interactive training programs, online articles, and webinars with the opportunity to earn continuing education units can also be accessed. Finally, the ICC can network with experts and consultants for informed answers to questions of infection control.
OSAP also offers 1-day boot camps specifically designed to help ICCs understand and successfully implement this important infection control and safety function, as well as an online community dedicated to ICCs for the purpose of sharing tips and resources. Other resources include assets to demonstrate your practice’s commitment to dental safety and infection control certificates and certification programs.
In short, having an ICC will help your dental practice stay compliant with regulations, maintain a healthy work environment, and, perhaps most importantly, ensure patient and staff safety.
About The Author
Leslie E. Grant, DDS, MSPA
Former Chairman and Board Member, Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention