Managing the situation

01 January 2018

Martin Oates looks at how to deal with the mayhem of a medical emergency.

The life of any patient can be at immediate risk during a medical emergency. The entire dental team have a responsibility to be prepared to take direct action in that instance in order to save lives. 

Knowledge is key

Although medical emergencies are unpredictable, dental practitioner, Brian Needham proved how invaluable knowledge and experience can be when he saved the life of a patient suffering from a heart attack in his practice earlier this year. The General Dental Council states that it is essential for all members of staff in the dental practice to be adequately trained in dealing with medical emergencies, including resuscitation, and evidence must be kept of any relevant courses. It is also recommended that staff complete a course of basic life support training once a year.

Follow procedures

In the event of a medical emergency, the Resuscitation Council (RC) guidelines advise to stay calm and ensure that you and your staff are safe before examining the patient through the ABCDE approach to assess if they look unwell:

  • Airway – assess that there is no obstruction to their airway
  • Breathing – check that the rhythm of their breathing is normal
  • Circulation – has their circulatory state been compromised? (A hint will be in the fact that their tongue and lips will turn blue)
  • Disability – make a swift initial assessment of the patient’s consciousness 
  • Exposure – you may need to loosen or remove the patient’s clothing to adequately treat the patient

If the patient’s condition deteriorates, you or a member of your team may be required to supply them with oxygen.

Utilising drugs and equipment

It is crucial that practices have a kit where all drugs that can be used in a medical emergency are stowed together in a purposely designed storage bag or container. All members of staff must know where it is kept. An automated external defibrillator (AED), such as the Zoll AED Plus from Dental Express, is also an essential piece of equipment for practices to house in order to revive patients suffering from cardiorespiratory arrest.

Take time to reflect

Following treatment for any medical emergency, reflecting and debriefing as a team will enable you and your staff to learn from what happened during the emergency so that steps can be taken to improve your clinical practice. Remember, this knowledge could save a life.

References available on request.