While providing the highest quality of dental care to their patients, dentists also try their best to improve the efficiency and productivity of their practice. However, dental offices are so focused on improving their clinical efficiency and output, that they completely ignore a very important fact; most of their manpower is being utilized in cleaning and sterilizing of dental instruments. Increasing your practice’s productivity will directly affect your profitability. Here are nine points which can help you increase your profits by streamlining and optimizing your sterilization protocols.
- Labor is NOT Cheap
It may initially seem cost-effective to higher cheap labor for handling and cleaning instruments. However, the fact is that about 25% of the annual budget of a dental practice is consumed by the labor. In fact, the sterilization room is considered as one of the most labor-intensive areas of a dental office. Many dentists think that they are saving money by hiring cheap labor, but this practice actually costs them more in the longer run. How to avoid that? By buying cleaning and sterilization equipment which will pay for themselves within a year by minimizing the labor costs.
- No Need to Handle Instruments Individually
Cleaning, washing and sterilizing each instrument takes a lot of time and demands the presence of a person at all times during the process. This can be easily avoided by buying dedicated instrument washer which performs all these functions. Not only will it reduce the time for cleaning and sterilization of instruments, but it will also significantly reduce the need for labor in the sterilization room. In addition to that, sterilization cassettes are quite helpful in sterilization and cleaning of instruments in a single batch, and thereby minimizing the sterilization time and labor requirement.
It has been estimated that by combining the use of an instrument washer and sterilization cassettes, 10 hours of labor can be saved each week. This amounts to a total of 40 hours of labor saved each month. Imagine the savings you can make with this! Not having to pay one employ week salary each month, this is huge!
- Striking a Balance between Instrument Cleaning and Sterilization
One of the most common mistakes dentists do is that they either significantly enhance their instrument cleaning capacity while having limited capacity for sterilization, or vice versa. The ideal practice is to match your cleaning capacity with sterilization. This will streamline your instrument handling, washing and sterilization protocol and at the same time, minimize the requirement for labor in the sterilization room. The end result? Improved performance and enhanced savings.
For a regular dental office, an instrument washer works perfectly with an 11-inch diameter autoclave which is equipped with flash sterilization. For larger dental offices, you may need one or more instrument washers with multiple autoclaves. It all depends on your use.
- The order is the Key to Success
Dentists should design and implement a definite system for orderly cleaning and sterilization of dental instruments. This will not only reduce the time required for instrument sterilization but also improve the productivity of the staff assigned to the sterilization room.
The instruments should first come to a central sterilization area, where they are washed, cleaned, dried and then packaged in sterilization pouches. From here, they should be moved to a clean area, and finally into the sterilization area. Either a clockwise or anti-clockwise sequence can be adapted for cleaning or sterilization of the instruments.
The productivity of your staff, as well as the efficiency of cleaning and sterilization, can be improved by adopting the following four golden principles:
- Central Sterilization Areas – All instruments must be stored in central sterilization. This saves time and effort.
- Equally Equipped Operatories – All operatories should be equipped identically to improve performance and productivity
- Using Sterilization Cassettes – Instruments for sterilization and later on, storage can be organized by using sterilization cassettes, based on the intended procedure, such as instruments for root canal treatment, fillings, implant placement, extraction etc.
- The sequence of Operatory Function –The instruments are brought from the central sterilization to the operatory, where the function of operatory is determined by the type of instrument to be used.
- Procedure Tubs are good!
Using procedure tubs for storing instruments after sterilization not only saves space but also provides an efficient mechanism for stacking all instruments used for a specific procedure in a single place. You can also color code the instruments which are arranged in specific sterilization cassettes, and then packed into their respective tubs to correspond with the type of procedure which you have planned.
Now imagine the energy and time of your staff you will save with this decision. Your team will not have to look everywhere for a “lost” instrument. Rather, they will simply pick the procedure tubs marked for a specific procedure and bring it to the operatory, thereby saving time, which literally costs you money.
- Create Sufficient Space in the Sterilization Room
It is a common practice for dental office owners to save space by shrinking away from the hallway and sterilization room space. If there is very little space for people to pass and work in the sterilization area, this will directly affect the number of instruments which can clean and sterilized at a time. By providing at least 4-feet wide aisle in the sterilization room, you allow easy traffic flow, which will directly improve your team’s performance and significantly cut down labor costs, as lesser time will be spent in the sterilization room.
- Use a Sink with 2 Faucets
To make cleaning of instruments easier, use a large sink which should be at least 24 inches wide and 9 inches deep. However, you should install 2 faucets with the sink, as it allows two operators to wash and clean instruments simultaneously. In this way, you’re basically doubling the cleaning and washing capacity, and at the same time, reducing your labor costs by half.
- Installing Bright Lights Under the Counter Tops
It is a basic fact that efficiency and productivity of your staff will increase significantly when they are in good mood. It has been shown that work area with bright lights has a positive effect on the mood and productivity of employees. Therefore, it might be a good idea to install the bright countertop and recessed ceiling lights. Do that, and you will feel a remarkable reduction in the taken by your staff in instrument sterilization? The net effect? Reduced labor costs and increased profits!
- Minimal Distance Between the Operatory and Sterilization Room
Imagine what will happen if the sterilization room is not near the operatory? Members of your team assigned to instrument sterilization will have to travel longer distances, which takes time. Therefore, ideally, the distance between the sterilization room and the farthest operatory should be less than 30 feet. This will ensure less time spent by your staff in transporting instruments and more time in looking after your patients.
In a nutshell, dentists should start thinking about the long-term rather than getting short-term benefits. The above-mentioned ideas will help you do that exactly! And they will certainly help you in boosting your team’s efficiency, reducing your expenses and increasing your profits. The best thing about these points is that you can easily apply them at any time, and they will start giving results immediately!