Over 500 dental practices around Australia have already earned their accreditation and the benefit, they say, is obvious immediately. By Chris Sheedy
Even before she had finished working her way through the Dental Practice Accreditation process, practice manager Eliza Brownlow from West Pymble Dental Surgery in Sydney recognised the accreditation’s value to the business. “It offered us a process to be immediately updated on changing regulations,” Brownlow says.
“It gave us a surprisingly simple and fuss-free system to record incidents, share information around the practice and with clients, and to run the practice in general. I thought it was going to be a complicated process, but we were guided through the whole way. It was actually simple.”
Brownlow spent a few hours a week over four months completing the accreditation documents. The greatest challenge, she says, was attempting to hunt down vaccination certificates for various staff members—some of whom had been vaccinated over a decade earlier. But in the end all staff agreed to simply have their vaccinations updated and suddenly that issue was no longer a problem.
“Clients are supported the entire way through with various resources, including technical assistance from QIP liaison officers and dental specific advice and workshops.” – Wendy Shephard, Quality Innovation Performance general manager QLD/NT
The Australian Dental Association (ADA) says Dental Practice Accreditation helps dental businesses with their ongoing commitment to the improvement of policies and procedures that govern their practices. It also serves as a powerful PR tool, broadcasting the fact to staff, colleagues and patients that the business is committed to safety and quality.
“Practice accreditation was mooted back in 2006 and it rolled onwards from there,” says Dr Hugo Sachs, executive board member of the ADA and practising dentist in rural NSW. “If practice accreditation was to exist, the ADA wanted to be a big part of it and influence how it would operate. Some parties would like to see it made compulsory for all practices, but our attitude is that we would like to see the profession self-regulate. This is part and parcel of ensuring we are being proactive in the way in which dental services are being delivered.”
The guidelines for accreditation were developed through the Australian Commission for Safety and Quality in Health Care. That body produced the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards to protect the public from harm and improve the quality of health service provision across all Australian health service industries.
Some of the standards, originally written for hospital-based health services, were obviously not applicable to office-based dental practices. Dr Sachs says the ADA has been, and still is, ironing out those kinks in the accreditation standards for dentistry. “We have over 500 practices accredited and only 12 have dropped out of the process out of 800 currently enrolled. That’s a remarkable compliance rate,” Dr Sachs says.
“The accreditation process helps to develop systems within your practice,” Dr Sachs says. “It enables you to identify problems, particularly ones that may be recurrent. It gives you a reporting structure and it gives internal and external feedback mechanisms. This adds up to better information you can use to develop service delivery models for your patients.”
The ADA’s preferred accreditation provider is Quality Innovation Performance (QIP). The company’s general manager QLD/NT, Wendy Shephard, says QIP has developed an educative and supportive approach for the accreditation process.
“It’s quite a streamlined desktop assessment and the software allows for everything to be uploaded into our system so you’re not dealing with masses of paper files,” Shephard says. “Clients are supported the entire way through with various resources, including technical assistance from QIP liaison officers and dental specific advice and workshops provided by staff within ADA branches.”
Practices have 12 months to complete the accreditation process, but most have it finished in less than six months, Shephard says. “Many people tell us there were a lot of benefits—it makes them think about what they do in their practices, how they manage things and how their processes can be improved and simplified,” she says. “Then they can put up a certificate in their practice as well as electronic versions of the accreditation logo on their letterhead or website, to let clients know they have passed a robust accreditation process.”
The cost of Introductory Dental Practice Accreditation is $720 + GST per practice, for ADA members. There are various pricing models to cover multiple practices under the same business umbrella, also.
Introductory Dental Practice Accreditation, according to the information brochure, involves:
- Registration for practice accreditation via the ADA website
- Your practice undertaking a self-assessment against the six NSQHS Standards applicable to dentistry, and submitting your online application via QIP’s website, with documents that show how your practice meets the requirements of those Standards
- A desktop audit of your practice’s self-assessment, conducted by a qualified QIP auditor
- Development of an auditor’s report and a practice ‘quality improvement’ plan
- An accreditation decision made by an authorised, independent QIP Decision Maker, based on the information detailed in the audit report
- A commitment to pursue continuous improvement within your practice.
“Of course it is time consuming but in the long run it will save us time,” Brownlow says about the accreditation process. “Outside of the time taken to do it, the costs were minimal. It’s actually very good for the practice. It starts you doing everything in a very systematic and uncomplicated way. And now we know exactly what does and does not need to be reported. When you’re not sure of what is necessary, you tend to over-report. But we now have simple structures and templates to use. These new, simpler processes are also easier to communicate to new staff.”
The certificate hanging in the waiting room, Brownlow says, has been earning its fair share of attention. Patients appear buoyed by the fact that it has been earned so recently, she says, as opposed to award certificates that can appear quite old after just a few years. “I think it’s actually very reassuring for patients,” Brownlow says.
“Such accreditation builds better rapport with your patients,” Dr Sachs agrees. “It’s a very competitive marketplace out there. Practices are looking for an edge and patients are looking for quality. Perhaps this solution offers both.”
Leading the charge
At the end of last year, Dental Corporation launched a group-wide accreditation program, seeing the National Safety and Quality Health Service (NSQHS) Standard rolled out to its 190+ practices across Australia and New Zealand.
Dental Corporation is one of the first dental corporates and certainly the largest to facilitate accreditation, ensuring the best possible service is provided to their patients.
Dental Corporation executives have been working with the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and Quality Innovation Performance (QIP) to determine the best process to facilitate a high-quality and guided approach for our practices to achieve accreditation.
Dr Stephen Clark, CEO QIP, says: “We have been working closely with Dental Corporation to ensure the standards are rolled out systematically and the accreditation criterion is accurately regulated. I am confident in Dental Corporation’s ability to apply the standards to its practices and commend the company in its innovation of being the first corporate group to implement the NSQHS Standard.” Practice accreditation is achieved by submitting evidence covering best practice protocols such as workplace health and safety, infection control and patient records processes, which is independently assessed against the NSQHS Standards.
Gordon Towell, Dental Corporation director of strategy and development, says that Dental Practice Accreditation is an important step in ensuring Dental Corporation’s practices stay on the forefront of patient care and are committed to safety in the practice.
“We have recognised the continued changes within the industry and we will implement the practice accreditation process supporting our practices to meet the NSQHS Standards. At present these Standards and the requirement for practices to achieve accreditation remain voluntary but we believe there is a very high likelihood that Australia will follow many other countries and move to compulsory accreditation in the foreseeable future,” says Towell.