Study finds clinic leadership has direct impact on level of preventive care

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Study finds clinic leadership has direct impact on level of preventive care

A recent study conducted in Sweden indicates that the quality of professional leadership within a dental clinic directly corresponds to the amount of preventive care offered by the clinic. (Image: Andrii Yalanskyi/Shutterstock)

MALMÖ, Sweden: Even though Sweden has built a more robust healthcare system than exists in many countries, adults in the country still have a high frequency of new caries diagnoses. The authors of a recent study concerning dental clinic leadership in Sweden have indicated that, although recruiting competent dental practitioners and hygienists is important—especially outside of larger towns—the quality of leadership in clinics has a direct correlation with both the working environment and the delivery of caries preventive care.

Based on data on more than 5,300 patients and information on the work environment of 75 public dental clinics, the authors found that patients were more likely to receive necessary preventive care if the clinic was run under a high quality of leadership, as assessed by the opinions of the clinical staff. High-quality leadership also fostered a collaborative work climate and allowed for clear role expectations and low staff burn-out. Because caries treatment in Swedish public dental practices is provided as part of a team, role clarity is important for increasing the likelihood of caries patients also receiving preventive care, according to the authors. Surprisingly, these environmental factors resulting from high-quality leadership did not of themselves affect the level of preventive care provided by the clinic, though the level of these factors was a clear indication of the quality of leadership. The authors suggested that this could indicate that there are other mechanisms by which leadership has an influence on employees regarding caries prevention.

In Sweden, more than half of the adult patients who receive treatment for dental caries are diagnosed with new caries within two years, despite diligence in attending follow-up appointments, indicating that providing evidence-based preventive care is complicated. In their study, the authors found that less than 10% of the patients evaluated actually received preventive care along with their restorative treatment. In seeking to explain this result, the authors drew on research findings that dentists may find it more difficult to pitch prevention than restoration and may not offer preventive care if they feel that compliance with a preventive regimen would be low and that patients may feel defeated, guilty and vulnerable, making it difficult to ask questions, especially if staff seem stressed.

The authors emphasised the importance of good clinic leadership for helping staff to build a better focus on prevention and the need for clinic leadership to create a work climate that reduces barriers for patients to voice their opinions and that enhances staff priority to provide preventive care.

The study also found that, statistically, caries prevention was more likely to be provided to patients who were younger, were male, had a lower level of education and were born outside of Scandinavia. Income had no effect. These findings support that groups at highest risk tend to receive the most prevention independent of income, thus counteracting social inequality in health as intended by Swedish healthcare legislation.

The study, titled “Leadership, work environment and caries prevention—what is good for the staff, is also good for the patients” was published online on 18 August 2022 in Acta Odontologica Scandinavica.

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