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Assessing Patient Satisfaction Vital to Maintaining High Standards of Dental Care throughout DoD

Oral surgeon and an oral surgery assistant provide dental treatment to patient.
By Vivian Mason

Oral health is a very important component of overall military readiness. Military service members receive the majority of their dental care from more than 340 military dental treatment facilities around the world, and they are strongly encouraged to be proactive in maintaining their personal dental health.

As part of good dental health efforts, patient satisfaction is an important compliance motivator when providing dental care because it’s regarded as an outcome measure of quality. Thus, monitoring and assessing patient satisfaction in those facilities are vital to maintaining a high standard throughout the military.

“The Department of Defense’s Dental Patient Satisfaction Survey, which was developed by the Tri-Service Center for Oral Health Studies (TSCOHS), has been administered since 1998,” says Air Force Lt. Col. Scott Irwin, director of TSCOHS at the Uniformed Services University (USU) and assistant professor of the USU Postgraduate Dental College.

Active duty service members are invited to complete a survey after each dental appointment to assess their level of satisfaction with the experience. These surveys are sent to TSCOHS at the end of each quarter. The surveys are anonymous and do not contain any patient identifiers. TSCOHS usually receives about 150,000 survey responses a year.

Oral surgeon and dental assistant perform treatment on a service member.
[Image Credit: Erin Murray]

As part of the USU Postgraduate Dental College, TSCOHS also provides consultative services to students, other faculty at USU, and the Services on issues related to oral health care and data sources related to oral health in the military and the civilian sector.

“We’re intimately associated with the Postgraduate Dental College,” Irwin said. “We have students who use the various data that we collect for their student research projects during their postgraduate education. The Center also collaborates with students, principal investigators, or other researchers on topics that may involve any population-based or any epidemiological-based perspective, especially if it involves dental or oral health.” The Center recently collaborated with the Murtha Cancer Center to investigate smokeless tobacco use in the military.

Dental technician provides oral prophylaxis on small patient
[Image Credit: U.S. Air Force
photo by Kemberley Groue]
Results from the DoD Dental Patient Satisfaction Survey are used to assess how patients view their dental experiences in the dental treatment facilities worldwide. The survey asks a variety of questions to determine satisfaction with several elements of care, including access to care, waiting time in the clinic on the day of the appointment, satisfaction with the quality of care received, satisfaction with the patient’s interpersonal relationship with clinic staff, demographic data, overall satisfaction, and more.

Student analysis of the DoD Dental Patient Satisfaction Survey has shown that patient satisfaction at military dental clinics is high, with 93% of patients reporting that they would return to the dental clinic where they received care if they had a choice and 95% reporting satisfaction with the clinic’s overall ability to take care of their needs. Evidence has shown that patient-satisfied interactions with the dentist led to patients who understood dental health compliance and who more accurately followed prescribed dental regimens, which ultimately manifested into healthier patients.

The most significant predictor of patient satisfaction was whether or not a patient was seen on time for their dental visit. Other important predictors included type of visit, size of clinic, interpersonal relationship between the patient and dental provider, branch of military service, and age. Survey results indicated that the patient most likely to be satisfied was a service member who was 30 to 40 years old, who was seen on time for a combination examination/cleaning appointment, and who was treated by a dentist who took ample time to thoroughly explain procedures in a friendly and courteous manner.

The Dental Patient Satisfaction Survey is mandated by law, and results are forwarded to Congress via the Defense Health Agency at the end of each fiscal year. Additionally, quarterly reports specific to each military service are distributed to their leadership and customer service representatives.

“TSCOHS personnel and USU website developers are currently working to produce the next generation of an online reporting tool,” said Navy Captain Steve Matis, deputy director of TSCOHS. “These improvements will leverage a variety of new technologies to ensure a stable and predictable instrument that will make accessing and analyzing DoD Dental Patient Satisfaction Survey results faster, easier, and more secure.”