Providing Dental Services in the Hospital Setting

Amy Wasdin, RN, CPHRM, Patient Safety Risk Manager II

Lack of familiarity with hospital systems can pose serious risk management implications.

Patients present to an acute care facility for a variety of reasons such as emergency care, admission for ongoing treatment, surgical procedures, and specialized nursing care. Unfortunately, appropriate dental care is often overlooked or not identified as a priority at the beginning of a patient’s course of hospitalization.

Good dental care is an important component to maintain overall health and well-being. When unchecked and untreated, bacteria that forms on teeth can often lead to more serious health problems. Poor oral care has been known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections, as well as other serious health conditions.

Dentists and oral surgeons are often credentialed and included in a hospital’s medical staff roster to provide dental services to emergency department patients and inpatients when needed. Providing dental care for a hospitalized patient is uncommon and dentists and oral surgeons are not routinely consulted to provide dental services.

Because of the infrequency of providing dental care in the hospital setting, many dentists are unfamiliar with hospital and medical staff requirements that apply to the providers who examine and treat inpatients. The lack of familiarity with hospital systems and medical staff rules can pose serious risk management implications for the dental care provider.

Risk Management Strategies

  • Be wary of “curbside consultations” in which informal collaboration may find its way into the medical record. Consulting dentists have been sued by patients that they neither met nor examined because of inaccurate documentation by other providers in the medical record. If you are asked for input on a specific patient situation, it may be best to request a formal consultation so that you can document your thoughts and opinions in your own words.
  • Communicate clearly with other providers on the expectations regarding your involvement in patient care. Once you become a part of the care team, the lines often get blurred among providers regarding who is responsible for each aspect of care. Key information can often get lost in the transitions of care that occur in a hospital among caregivers. Clarify your role in the record, and communicate with other providers when there is confusion or cause for concern.
  • Familiarize yourself with the medical record beforehand—ask for training. Electronic medical records (EMRs) present unique nuances and special challenges to a user that is unfamiliar with the system. There may be templates or designated sections for your documentation. The EMR may not be easily navigated so it is helpful to take the time to learn the various sections that you will need to utilize. It can be a powerful tool for provider collaboration if you know where to look for information.
  • Understand your documentation requirements. How often are you required to document your care of the patient? When does your documentation need to be finalized and available in the medical record? What do you need to include in your consultation notes? This information should be provided at the time of your appointment to the medical staff.
  • Request updates and revisions to processes and systems. Hospitals regularly update and revise facility operations as well as clinical policies and processes. Make sure that you periodically request updated information regarding any facility or patient care-related changes. Notice of physical plant changes may prove extremely helpful to you when you need to locate your patient to provide dental services. Notice of process changes will help you fulfill your obligation as a medical staff member to follow current policies and procedures.
  • Have a go-to person to contact for assistance when needed. Despite taking appropriate steps to be prepared to care for your patient, there are always unexpected challenges that may occur. Get to know your medical staff department coordinator or the facility risk manager. They can prove to be great resources when you need quick access to information. Also, if you can’t find someone for assistance after regular hours, reach out to the hospital administrator on call who will connect you with someone that can assist you.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice, and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each healthcare provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

J11076 6/17

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