Purpose: The purpose of this pilot study was to gather demographic data about six Colorado dental hygienists who were practicing independently and their practices as well as assess productivity and service mix, evaluate structure and process, and compare the findings in these practices to those of a study of California Health Manpower Pilot Project #139.
Methods: A convenience sample of six dental hygiene independent practices was studied. A 21-item survey was distributed by mail to obtain demographic and practice information. Weekly surveys tracking patient visits and services provided were completed for three months. A general office audit to evaluate structure and a record audit of 22 patient records to evaluate process were conducted during visits at each practice site. The overall responses for each phase of this study were tabulated and frequencies were calculated using the SPSS/PC+ statistical package.
Results: The dental hygienists had practiced for an average of 13 years prior to establishing their practices. Four of the six practices were office-based, one was institution-based, and one was office- and institution-based. Health history, extraoral/intraoral examination, periodontal probing, adult prophylaxis, and oral hygiene instruction were provided during a majority of patient visits. The general office audit revealed compliance with infection control, office protocols for emergency situations, and practice management protocols. The patient record audit indicated a high standard for process of care for the practice sites.
Conclusion: The six practices revealed a variety of backgrounds among the dental hygienists and diverse practice characteristics regarding both the populations served and practice settings. The services provided were consistent with allowable services for unsupervised practice. Compliance with specific guidelines was verified during the general office and patient record audits. Consistent with the findings of California Health Manpower Pilot Project #139, the care provided by the Colorado dental hygiene independent practitioners in this study and the environment in which the care was provided do not exhibit any undue risk to the health and safety of the public.