Updated: Feb 24, 2021
Medical emergencies can and do happen: Is your practice ready?
Rather than asking if a medical emergency will happen in your practice, the real question is this:
Is your practice equipped, and are your staff trained to handle the inevitable emergency?
Don't just take anyone's word for it: the proof is in the data. According to research by Dr. Stanley Malamed, a dentist will experience an office emergency once every two years. 50% of those emergencies will be syncope. The ADA estimates that 3000 life-threatening emergencies happen every year in dental offices.
Given that an emergency WILL HAPPEN in your office, dentists and staff members alike must be able to recognize and effectively manage the medical emergency.
To effectively manage an emergency, it's important to know what constitutes a medical emergency in the dental practice.
Dr. Stanley Malamed defines a medical emergency as "an event occurring to the patient in the chair that causes the doctor to stop 'doing' dentistry because they (the doctor) are now more concerned with the patient's life than with the patient's teeth."
Once you become concerned with the patient's life, the dentist and the dental team are legally and medically responsible to effectively respond to the situation until the situation is rectified or until emergency responders arrive on the scene to assume responsibility for the patient's life.
In the U.S., the average time from receipt of a 911 call to the arrival of EMS at the scene of the emergency is approximately 10 minutes. That's only the average. In your location, the time of arrival may be longer. A good rule of thumb is to be prepared to sustain the patient's life for up to 20 minutes.
Cover your emergency preparedness "BASES " by establishing a strong foundation readiness. Covering these "BASES" will enable you to sustain your patient's life when the inevitable emergency occurs.
B = Basic Life Support (BLS) training and qualifications
Staff training should occur in the dental office, with the manikin placed on the floor in the reception area as well as in the dental chair to simulate the real-life settings you will experience.
A = Advanced Emergency Preparedness Training
S = stat 911
Ensure access to emergency services (911).
E = Emergency Equipment
Have the equipment for medical emergencies and know how to effectively use them. This includes an oxygen delivery system with appropriately sized face masks, AEDs, and an emergency drug kit. (ALSDA and ALSDH will help satisfy this foundational building block of knowing how to effectively use the equipment.)
S = Simulation
Regularly conduct Mock Medical Emergency Drills with the entire team.
Get a sample mock medical emergency drill at this link. (ALSDA and ALSDH will provide 24 mock medical emergency drills.)
Cover your BASES with a team-based office emergency response plan. The plan should be in writing and describe roles and responsibilities. The team in the plan should consist of at least three persons:
The team member first on the scene of the emergency
The team member that procures emergency supplies and brings them to the scene
The team member that monitors and records vital signs, assists with BLS, activates EMS, and assists as necessary.
Given that emergencies DO HAPPEN and that they WILL HAPPEN in your dental office, having these five building blocks as the foundation of your BASES will ensure you and your team can recognize and effectively manage the inevitable office emergency - thus preventing a career-ending mistake. Emergency readiness is your responsibility as a professional.