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When inconvenience is positive: Accreditation review in dental hygiene is not always negative

March 14, 2017
Lory Laughter, RDH explains how regulatory review for accreditation is not always a negative event in the dental hygiene setting.

By Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS

Words get a bad rap sometimes. Oversight, accreditation, and management have become negatives in our vocabulary. In many cases, those words are viewed as unnecessary and outdated. I cannot count how many stories I've heard of the office manager trying to tell the RDH what to do, and I've witnessed the outrage of my colleagues when responding to such tales. Yes, micro-managing is annoying, aggressive oversight can hinder performance, and accreditation can be lengthy and time consuming. But are these words only pessimistic in tone?

Imagine how perception could change simply by using synonyms of these annoying words. Approval, recognition, and support are viewed my many as less derogatory. Although the meaning is essentially the same, the softer terms bring a tone of less hostility. While most don't like to hear about regulatory bodies taking action, I have seen it work in an appropriate and positive manner.

On Aug. 20, 2016, the Dental Hygiene Committee of California (DHCC) withdrew approval for a dental hygiene program in the state. The investigation into the school was prompted by faculty and student complaints directly to the DHCC. During the investigation, other regulatory bodies became involved in making sure the program met accreditation standards. While the action by DHCC could have been seen as a damaging blow to the program, it was instead a catalyst for a positive outcome.

The California Dental Hygienists' Association was asked by the school for assistance, and the association recommended a consultant. The program knew what changes needed to be made and took the necessary action. The approval status from DHCC was reinstated. The program continues to operate and students will graduate from a school that used the regulatory suggestions for improvement.

There are two components to this situation I find interesting. Students and faculty were directly involved in the reporting of problems leading to the removal of approval. While the program has taken action, the local health department has yet to inform any treated patient of potential exposure to blood borne pathogens.

Without an accreditation process, nothing would be in place to ensure programs are safe and providing a level of education necessary. Dental hygienists are health-care providers, not just teeth cleaners. We are about so much more than shiny teeth and the almost obsessive need to remove every last spec of calculus. The well-being of our patients should be the number one priority. For this reason, education requirements need to be in place and a system for ensuring those requirements are met must exist.

Accreditation may bring about a negative response from many, but I am thankful it is in place. The public good is a higher ideal than the inconvenience of gaining or reviewing necessary standards.

I am concerned the public health department does not appear to be held to a similar high standard. I've heard the excuses for why the potentially exposed patients were not notified, but find those reasons unacceptable. There is no need to wait for someone to display or report symptoms and then trace back to an exposure incident. The ethical step would be to tell potentially exposed patients to watch for signs and report any to the health department or their primary care provider. Ethics are vital in caring for the health of the public.

I am betting most of us have received the dreaded letter in the mail telling us our credit or debit card information has been compromised. It is not a pleasant correspondence to receive, but I always appreciate it. I can then take steps to make sure my card has not been used by another person, and I ask for a report on my social security number. I feel empowered to protect myself. We live in a world where financial well-being appears valued over physical health.

Accreditation is not an outdated process. Education benefits from standards, review, consulting, and achieving a high standard. Program reviews aid programs in meeting and maintaining quality educational standards. More importantly, patients are protected.

May we use our emotional intelligence to view inconveniences from a positive perspective. Be thankful you had the opportunity for a highly valued educational experience. Hopefully, all health care providers and public health institutions will be held to similar standards. Accreditation: it's a good thing. RDH

Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, MS, practices clinically in Napa, Calif. She is an assistant professor of periodontics at University of the Pacific. Her role as an international speaker allows her to combine her love of travel with educating dental professionals. She is a clinical educator for American Eagle Instruments. She can be contacted at [email protected].