Content Dam Diq Online Articles 2016 07 Hear Surprise 1

This might surprise you about HIPAA and your dental practice

July 20, 2016
Of course your dental practice is aware of HIPAA. You observe it carefully, without question. But what happened to this author might surprise you. Is your staff careless, but they don't know they're being careless?

It’s the little things that might catch you and your dental team off guard, so therefore everyone needs to be very aware of these little things and HIPAA compliance. The following episodes happened to the author, much to her discomfort.

How protective are you of your patients’ confidential information? It’s something you should look at very closely. Are you being as thorough as you should be? The bottom line is: everyone can improve on this one. While you might think you’re following all the HIPAA rules, watch out for little things that can sneak up on staff.

Imagine this scenario. You’re in need of an implant, but you must have the oral surgeon extract a tricky tooth first. You walk into the office the day of surgery and are amazed at what you see. There’s no sign-in sheet at the front desk. The front office staff asks your name and what kind of surgery you’ll be getting. You tell her and sit down, and that’s when the entertainment begins.

First, you get to learn what everyone else in the waiting room is there for. (It’s a big practice and there are lots of surgeries going on at the same time.)
Second, from where you’re sitting, you can hear everything being said to each patient as they’re called up to the desk to register. (Did that one really take just one valium to get her prepared for the surgery?)
Third, you hear the conversations with the patients who are leaving the office. (Is she really going to need more surgeries, and will she have to empty out her savings account to do so?)

Throughout all of this, there’s absolutely no attempt on the part of staff members to be discreet or to protect patients’ privacy.

Nervous, you enter the public restroom and are amazed to see two staff members discussing the case they just finished while they're washing their hands. (At least in hospitals there are signs in the elevators reminding staff not to talk about patients. Maybe there need to be signs in public restrooms of medical and dental buildings.) The staff don’t even stop their conversation when you enter.

You mention that you overheard this conversation when you go back to the reception area. The front office person looks at you like you’re overreacting. But, are you? I don’t know about you, but people are getting pretty lax with protecting my privacy. Look, I get it. Sometimes things need to get done and people forget to put out a sign-in sheet. But why would I have to tell the front office what kind of surgery I’m having? (What is the front office going to do? Start the prep? Explain the procedure?)

My point is this. No one wants to look at their mistakes. But even when confronted about their mistakes, many medical and dental staff don’t think they've breached any privacy rules. Then they repeat the behavior. This is why you need to stop and make a conscious effort to pay attention to what you’re doing and how you're handling patients. This is a common problem, and many practices deny it. But patients definitely hear and see things.

Privacy is very important. There are reasons why we don’t want people to know our business. So heed this call to action. Be open to feedback, even from patients, or open to an article like this. If you find out that some of the scenarios discussed here are happening in your dental practice, make the effort to change. Now.

If you would like to share your thoughts on this issue, feel free to shoot me an email at [email protected].

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Lisa Newburger, LISW-S, aka Diana Directive, is not afraid to tackle difficult topics for dental professionals with humor and aplomb. Her entertaining workshops are available for conferences and association meetings. Writing for DIQ since 2010, her “in-your-face” style of presentation and writing will make you smile, or perhaps shock you into taking action. Check out her website at