Keeping Patients Safe in the COVID-19 Era

June 2, 2020

williams-larryIn the second article in his series, CDS member Dr. Larry Williams is sharing insight and information on the steps dentists are taking to ensure the continued safety of their patients and staff as dental offices across the state continue to move through the reopening phase. Dr. Williams is a seasoned expert on navigating to public health emergencies. He previously served as the Public Health Emergency Officer in the Navy Region Midwest, where he prepared and trained for pandemic flu outbreaks in addition to the H1N1 swine flu outbreak in 2009. Read Dr. Williams’ first article, where he shared a reopening checklist and information on PPE to help guide practices as they begin to take steps forward to ensure a safe reopening.

Recommended Changes for the Dental Office

As dentists, we know that patient safety is our number one priority, and this is more important than ever in the era of COVID-19. In addition to staying up to date on current clinical guidance from federal, state and local officials, we are also reviewing current patient care and office protocols and making the necessary adjustments to maintain the highest quality of care for patients. As dentists continue to prepare for reopening their office, here are some of the steps they should consider implementing to minimize risk and ensure the continued safety and well-being of patients and staff.

Office Cleaning Procedures

  • Prior to opening and while emergency and routine care is being provided, operatories should be deep cleaned between patients, and restrooms and common areas should be disinfected more frequently.
  • To maintain a hazard-free environment, it is also recommended that you remove magazines, toys, remote controls, communal beverage stations and other high-touch items in waiting rooms.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an expanded list of EPA-registered disinfectant products that have qualified for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus. The list contains nearly 200 additional products – including 40 new products that went through the agency’s expedited review process. Many dental professionals have begun using cleaning products from this recently expanded list of disinfectants.

Physical Distancing

  • Maintaining distance from others in the office is extremely important, and many offices are creating processes to ensure at least two arm’s length, or six feet of distance, is kept when around staff or patients. Having patients wait in their cars is a good way to maintain social distancing. A simple cell phone call can bring them in.
  • If you are going to use your waiting room, the waiting room layouts should be adjusted to limit the number of people, and doors propped open to limit contact with high-touch surfaces, such as door handles. In some cases, offices may set up an alternative waiting room in an adjacent parking lot or similar space outside the office.
  • Reducing appointment times and/or adding time between patient visits are other ways to help space-out patient arrivals and departures.

Staff Protection & Paperwork Protocol

  • New measures should be taken to protect staff at the reception area, including sneeze barriers and front desk staff wearing masks or other protective gear. It is also critical that dentists, dental assistants and office staff wear additional Personal Protective Equipment to provide an added layer of security for them and for patients. Depending on the role, procedure or patient case, this may include masks, gloves, face shields and gowns, among other equipment.
  • Limit direct contact as much as possible and complete a chairside checklist prior to beginning an appointment or procedure to reconfirm the health status of patients.
  • To reduce the time patients spend in the office, you may also want to have patients register online ahead of time and complete a health pre-screening prior to their appointment.

Self-Screening & Hygiene Etiquette for Patients

  • By calling in advance to confirm an appointment and check on the health of the incoming patient, patients or members of their household who have recently been sick, currently have a temperature, new cough or have developed a complete loss of smell or taste, should be advised to reschedule their appointment.
  • Remind patients who are feeling well and have zero symptoms that an additional health screening may be conducted before care is received to confirm their health status, as well as a temperature check.
  • Anyone entering a dental office is required to wear a mask or face covering. Per CDC guidance, patients should also be reminded to clean their hands by either washing with soap and water or by using hand sanitizer when coming into the office for their appointment. Hand sanitizer should be made available for patient use in your office.