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How fostering a safety culture can save money and stress

Compared to other health-care settings, safety in dentistry has typically been considered a secondary priority. Michelle Strange, explains how fostering a safety culture in your practice can have big benefits.

In my experience, compared to other health-care settings, safety in dentistry has typically been relegated to a secondary priority. The perception is that dental care is lower risk, with errors causing significantly less morbidity, mortality, and financial impact than in other medical fields.

Unfortunately, this often cavalier approach has led to numerous cases of infection and injury. The dental practices involved came under heavy investigation by health officials, which resulted in severe legal and financial consequences.

Understanding the concepts of patient safety and culture

Today, dental and patient safety are important topics of research. Experiences in medicine, psychology, and social sciences have all contributed to several foundational concepts for patient safety. One definition of patient safety specific to health care is to “provide care that focuses on minimizing the risk of unnecessary harm to patients.”

The concept of safety culture originated from the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, where professionals worldwide were puzzled about the factors that caused the tragic events in the Ukrainian nuclear power plant to unfold. Although it also has several working concepts, the general definition of safety culture is “the systems of knowledge shared by a relatively large group of people.”

An organization’s safety culture combines the values, attitudes, and behaviors that determine the commitment toward a health and safety program. When it comes to dentistry, establishing a safety culture involves placing the well-being of patients and staff as the highest priority. Improving safety enhances the quality of care—a crucial element in organization evolution and development.

High-reliability organizations

High-reliability organizations (HROs) are those that meet safety, quality, and efficiency objectives via the implementation of five fundamental principles:

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