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Patient Safety in Action: MHS Dental Community Drills Down for Patient Safety Standards

An Army soldier receives dental care from Air Force dental clinicians at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii while the Airmen are deployed with the Florida Air National Guard to work and train in a joint environment. U.S. Air Force Maj. Matthew Sands and Staff Sgt. Lacy Summy perform a dental procedure on Army Spc. Sarah Hunt in the dental clinic on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Airmen are deployed with the Florida Air National Guard to work and train in a joint environment alongside active duty soldiers at Tripler Army Medical Center and the dental and optometry clinics on Schofield Barracks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shelley Gill)

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Often when thinking about patient safety, the image of a doctor’s office or hospital usually comes to mind, but the dentist office plays a critical role in protecting patient safety, too. When getting dental care, a patient may be given anesthesia or have an outpatient surgery like wisdom teeth removal. The services are working to advance safer care and standardize processes and procedures. One of these areas of focus is how dental safety events are being reported and analyzed. A Dental Patient Safety Integrated Product Team was formed to help standardize definitions and reporting throughout the Military Health System.

Representatives from the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Capital Region dental communities have been meeting monthly for more than a year to discuss dental patient safety and reliability. This group is working to enhance the culture of safety within the MHS dental community.

“The Dental IPT’s work this past year is critical for our high reliability organization journey,” said Ms. Heidi King, program manager of the DoD Patient Safety Program. “I commend these dental and patient safety champions for recognizing variability in reporting among the services, voluntarily coming together to study and have transparent conversations on how to learn from each other and drive improvements.”

During a September 2017 two-day retreat, the Dental IPT discussed a variety of topics including, wrong site surgery, loss of specimens, contamination, medication issues, delay in treatment, fire and unintended retained foreign objects. The services also shared some of their strategies to improve patient safety in dental clinics. 

Two ways the services are improving patient safety includes following The Joint Commission’s criteria for reporting events and conducting root cause analyses, and developing surgical instrument count protocols before and after a dental procedure.

“The work that the Dental IPT is doing has the potential to be industry leading,” said Dr. Daniel Ross, chief of the DoD Patient Safety Program. “Through standardized event definitions and our focus on the reporting of safety events as a tool for learning, military dentistry has a great opportunity to leverage organizational learning to mitigate unsafe conditions and proactively prevent harm.”

In 2018, a dental patient safety reporting guidebook will be released to educate frontline health care providers on best practices to identify and report dental patient safety events.

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