JDE study highlights initial impact of COVID-19 pandemic on US dental school clinics

Photo source: https://adea.org/jdehomepage/

A majority of United States (US) dental schools took a hit to their budgets during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and even more suspended community-based patient care experiences – two of several shocks to the system that are still playing out as academic institutions and healthcare delivery organisations continue to weather the crisis, according to a new study published in the Journal of Dental Education (JDE).

Forthcoming in the December 2021 issue of the American Dental Education Association’s (ADEA) journal and available online now, the study, “Operational and financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on U.S. dental school clinics”, is believed to be the first research exploring this topic nationally.

The study, which involved a structured survey of 67 accredited US dental schools, assessed how they, and especially their clinics, fared during the first eight months of the pandemic (from April to December 2020). Findings from that survey, which had a response rate of 67%, include:

  • A 50% reduction in patient visits at dental school clinics
  • A 42% decline in revenue
  • A 92% suspension rate of community-based patient care experiences outside the dental school clinic

“In the wider context, 67% of dental schools experienced budget reductions due to the pandemic, with a 7% median drop in budget,” according to the study. From a public health standpoint, the decline in patient visits may prove to be especially significant down the road.

“This decline may further exacerbate oral health disparities for patients who rely on the dental care offered in one of the 67 dental school clinics,” wrote the authors. “The decrease in patients also may impact students’ ability to complete their clinic requirements, primarily for third- and fourth-year students.”

The study also looked at the pandemic’s impact on dental school clinic personnel, finding that 54% of the dental schools suspended clinical faculty and staff hiring. Additionally, the dental schools reported “a higher percentage of layoffs (27%), furloughs (33%) and resignations (59%) of their clinical faculty and staff compared with nonclinical faculty and staff.”

The authors noted the limitations of this study, including the fact that the dental school data were self-reported and that its focus was restricted to the pandemic’s first eight months. Further research, they noted, could provide deeper insights into the pandemic’s effect on dental school clinics and how they are recovering from a still-fluid situation.

Additionally, the authors underscored the key role that dental education has played and can continue to play in fighting the pandemic.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, dental education can lead in revising and strengthening infection control measures, including hand hygiene, proper use of PPE, instrument sterilisation and disinfection practices in the dental school clinics,” they wrote.

The report’s authors are ADEA staffers Omar A. Escontrías, DrPH, MPH, senior director of Policy Research; Emilia C. Istrate PhD, MAIS, senior vice president of Policy and Education Research; Sariah Flores, MPH, health connection intern; and Denice C. L. Stewart DDS, MHSA, chief policy officer.