Inside Dental Assisting
July/Aug 2013
Volume 9, Issue 4

Q&A: OSAP on Breaches in Infection Control in the Dental Office

Breakdowns open the way to teachable moments

The serious infection control breaches at dental offices in Oklahoma and Colorado have raised major concerns with patients. After the media attention fades in such cases, the burden lies on dental professionals to reassure patients that infection control and patient safety are number one priorities in dental offices.

To help dental assistants educate patients, Inside Dental Assisting spoke with the Organization for Safety, Asepsis and Prevention (OSAP) about the resources available both for the aftermath of a crisis and for establishing excellent infection control on a daily basis.

How does OSAP respond when infection control breaches such as the Oklahoma case occur?

OSAP: OSAP is a “first responder” in the sense that the organization’s role is to react to infection breaches by gathering as much information as possible, assessing the situation, determining what resources the dental community will need, and making those resources available as quickly as possible.

Infection breaches are a direct threat to our vision of “Safe oral healthcare for people everywhere.” When such breaches occur, OSAP believes patient safety is the number one priority. Our role is not only to help dental professionals understand and learn from what happened, but also to help prevent such situations from occurring again in the future. We use Infection Alerts to notify the dental community, and then use our website to provide information for helping them to prevent similar problems from occurring to them. We provide information about how to deal with such issues if they happen to arise in their own office, and how to communicate to the public about such problems or issues. We don’t just inform, we also support.

How can dental teams communicate best infection control practices to patients and staff members?

OSAP: When infection breaches become national news, patients become concerned for their safety and are more likely to question their oral care providers. In a way, this is good, as it opens an important dialog and allows dental professionals to explain (and demonstrate) the many precautions they take to protect patients. Even if a patient does not bring the subject up, dental teams may want to use the breach as a teachable moment to reassure patients.

Some strategies may include:

• Inform patients that the practice uses proven infection control precautions as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest recommendations and other resources can be downloaded from the CDC at www.cdc.gov/oralhealth/infectioncontrol.

• Explain that dental anesthetics are given using sterile single-use needles and cartridges of anesthetic and that these items are properly discarded after each patient.

• Explain that when IV medications are used, those medications are either from single-dose vials or that multi-dose vials are accessed only once with a single needle and syringe and that additional medications, even for a single patient, are drawn with a new syringe and needle.

• Describe the sterilization process, including the cleaning, examination and then sterilization of instruments.

• Reassure patients that instruments are maintained in sterile pouches or wrap until they are needed for patient care. It may be particularly useful to only open pouches once patients have arrived, so they may see for themselves that the instruments are
properly packaged.

• Discuss the processes used for sterility assurance, including chemical indicators on and/or in packs of instruments and the regular monitoring of the sterilization process though the use of a biological indicator (spore test).

• Reassure patients that all procedures requiring licensure or certification are provided only by professionals educated and credentialed to provide those services. More information may be found through the American Dental Association (www.ada.org).

Finally, lead by example. Know what the proper procedures are and be sure to be vigilant in following them in practice. If the practitioner takes the lead, it will become evident to the staff and patients that it is an area taken seriously by the dentist and/or staff.

What is the mission of OSAP?

OSAP: OSAP’s mission is: “To be the world’s leading advocate for the safe and infection-free delivery of oral healthcare.” This mission is all-inclusive to those who deliver and receive oral healthcare. OSAP is able to fulfill this mission through its expertise.

What are some of the benefits of membership in OSAP?

OSAP: Our members benefit from our experts, our educational resources, and our community:

• We provide advisory services on safety, infection control, and risk management (“Ask OSAP”). Members contact us with issues, challenges, and questions. Our experts consult and provide written responses with well-sourced references.

• We deliver a weekly email news publication (“InfoBites”) that provides members with summary reporting of late breaking news.

• We develop innovative instructional tools for dental practices and the educational community to train the field on best practices. These tools are often short format and visual, and are designed to create real behavioral change.

• We offer courseware, both online and delivered through our two yearly educational programs. We have our Core Training, or basic training, in January; and our advanced curriculum in our Annual Symposium in June.

• We provide access to compliance resources and a rich knowledge center via OSAP.org.

• We give members access to our brain trust by fostering collaboration between the most recognized leaders in safety and infection control.

• OSAP is a community of members that takes safe oral healthcare seriously. The community supports each other to share best practices and stay on top of the latest issues. Being a member is like becoming part of the family with access to the knowledge, resources, and colleagues who share the same commitment.

Does OSAP have resources pertinent to dental assistants?

OSAP: In Oklahoma, dental assistants were implicated in the breach. OSAP has resources appropriate to all members of the dental team. In addition to the above-described resources, we have educational resources specifically designed for the entire dental team and the assistants. Because these professionals are on the front lines, we deliver six issues of our Infection Control in Practice newsletter. This publication provides a learning scenario, checklists, reminders, and visual aids that can immediately translate into improved safety and infection control within their practice. The newsletter also directs readers to the OSAP.org knowledge center for our complete library of instructional tools and courseware. OSAP views infection control and safety as a practice-wide commitment and therefore offers resources for every member of the dental team.

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