If you’ve ever lost a receipt, arrived at the grocery store without your list or misplaced a lucky lottery ticket, you’ve experienced the perils of paper. When navigating your dental practice’s many documentation requirements for patients, benefit plans and employees, those perils are exponentially multiplied.
Analysts who answer The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line field thousands of calls about practice challenges — many of which are related to navigating paper and digital documents.
As reported during a recent TDIC Advice Line call, a dentist who shared a storage area with another tenant experienced an issue when the space was being remodeled. When returning to work after the weekend, she realized that some charts were misplaced and was unsure whether information was missing and possibly even compromised. The analyst advised the dentist to conduct a HIPAA breach assessment. Without any certainty of the scope of the issue, the practice might have needed to send a blanket notification to all patients whose charts were contained in the storage area.
The inability to monitor, track and access paper documents during practice interruptions — no matter how brief — introduces risk. Whether you’re working through converting existing records into digital formats or looking for more paper-free opportunities, be thoughtful and strategic in your approach.
The amount of time you keep dental records after a patient’s last visit is determined by each state’s laws and the provisions of any contracted benefit plans — ranging from several years to “indefinitely.” Employment documents, tax returns, business contracts and insurance policies all have unique retention guidelines. Digital solutions allow you to more easily find and access documents on the cloud without the clutter. Check with your state dental association or dental board for region-specific requirements.
One of the biggest benefits of going paperless is the ability to protect important and confidential information from loss, theft or damage. Your role is to ensure that the right individuals on the practice team have access, that passwords are strong, that protocols are consistent and that your practice is insured for potential liabilities. Comprehensive protection to respond to and recover from cyber-related incidents is essential for dental offices of any size.
Another paperless upside is anytime, anywhere access. During an emergency or unforeseen event, you can have confidence that you’ll connect to the data you need. Your backup cycle is determined by your risk tolerance. How much data can you afford to compromise in a day, a week or a year? Secure, HIPAA-compliant, cloud-based solutions can back up data dependably but still need to be checked that they are functioning as expected.
While digital documents can streamline processes, the entire team still needs to be aligned. Use consistent naming conventions for files so that information can be cross-referenced or searched with ease. Provide training and opportunities for staff to weigh in on how the practice can be most successful at going green. Those who do the most paperwork can be the best champions for reducing repetitive tasks.
Of course, patient records aren’t the only place to go paperless. Discover new ways to go green, streamline and save time.
For example, here are three ways to manage insurance documents:
Policy documents: Through TDIC’s enhanced website, policyholders can access accounts 24/7 to download insurance policy documents, update profile information and preferences and make or request policy changes.
And here are more ways to streamline tracking equipment and supplies:
Engage the whole team in your efforts toward a paperless practice. Start with quick wins, like online access for insurance and business services. And commit to consistent safety and security protocols that allow you to enjoy the flexibility of digital documents.
TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit of CDA membership. Schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst or call 800.733.0633. Reprinted with permission from the September issue of the CDA Journal.
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