Patients who receive any sort of medical care in Louisiana, including dental, orthodontic, or ophthalmic, should feel confident that their providers have properly cleaned and sterilized their equipment to prevent the spread of disease-causing agents. However, patients treated at a university orthodontic clinic in Florida recently received the disturbing news that a group of resident orthodontists failed to properly clean and sterilize their equipment following examinations, potentially exposing over 1,000 patients to viruses such as hepatitis and HIV over a period of more than two years.
The university allegedly consulted with an independent infection control expert, as well as the Centers for Disease Control, and concluded that the risk of infection to patients was extremely low. Patients received notification of the potential exposure by a letter delivered via FedEx and sent on November 23rd, even though identification and correction of the problem reportedly happened back in February. Administrators cited an exhaustive patient record examination to identify patients possibly exposed as the reason for the delay. A spokesperson for the university claimed that an abundance of caution to ensure patients' well-being prompted the university to notify patients even though the institution allegedly had no legal obligation to do so.
At issue are high-speed dental handpieces that each dentist at the clinic must purchase for himself or herself. The dental residents reportedly used only a surface disinfectant wipe to clean these instruments between seeing patients, even though the CDC recommends a complete heat sterilization process. According to an email from the Executive Associate Dean, the residents allegedly cut corners while pressed for time between seeing patients. His recommended solution involves requiring students to buy a second handpiece to use while the first one receives sterilization.
A spokesperson for the university did not specify what consequences the residents will face for their allegedly long-term negligence although he did state that the university will take all appropriate disciplinary actions. Patients who have contracted an illness as a result of a health care provider's negligence may find it helpful to contact an attorney.