Saving time and staying safe with paperless documentation

September 2, 2021
Quick Summary:
A TDIC Risk Management analyst advises a dentist to conduct a HIPAA breach assessment during the dentist's call to the Advice Line. In this article, learn how to transform recurring paperwork into more secure, organized and flexible digital formats and reduce risks of outdated and compromised information while increasing convenience and accessibility.

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.

The downside of paper docs

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.

Saying yes to paperless in four steps

Understand retention guidelines.

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.

Secure records against risks.

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.

Get on a backup cycle.

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.

Facilitate team buy-in.

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.

Saving paper beyond the chart

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.

  • Bill payment: TDIC’s site also offers online bill payment and the option to set up recurring autopay debits. “Set it and forget it” billing ensures that payments are trackable and on time for many of your practice’s services and vendors, and online statements can facilitate budget reconciliation.
  • Claims reporting: When experiencing an accident or emergency, you’ll want to file a claim quickly and return your focus to patient care. Whether you report your claim online or by phone, logging in to track your claim through the process can provide more transparency and relief.

And here are more ways to streamline tracking equipment and supplies:

  • Inventory and asset tracking: In the event of an emergency, you’ll want records of your practice’s contents to be accessible too. With a little time invested on the front end, you can create a full view of the value of your assets in software or apps designed just for the task. Update and sync as you introduce new equipment and capture warranties, receipts, manuals and serial numbers.
  • Supply shopping: From dental equipment to break room essentials, creating digital checklists of frequently ordered items can help you cut down on shopping time, better organize and review invoices and avoid gaps and duplications. Bundling orders is another way to go green. Cut down on packaging and reduce your carbon footprint with fewer, well-planned deliveries.

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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