Lesson learned: Cover your assets when working independently

Dec. 8, 2009
A thief steals from a California RDHAP's mobile practice, and the hygienist learns some lessons about insurance coverage regarding such thefts.

by Noel Kelsch, RDHAP

Since I am a Registered Dental Hygienist in Alternative Practice (RDHAP), opening the trunk of my car is literally opening my office. Inside, you will find everything from toothbrushes to my dental unit. This allows me to see patients from every walk of life in every venue. I have clients in hospitals, homeless shelters, and their own homes. It is such a joy to be able to bring my profession to them.

One Wednesday, I gathered my supplies together to restock the trunk. I opened the trunk, and it was empty. I do not know who took my dental unit, instruments, and supplies, and probably never will. I often think what a shock it must have been to them when they opened the black suitcases that contain my dental unit and discovered what was inside.

The greatest shock came after reporting the event to the police and insurance company. The police explained that there was little they could do about the situation and recommended I watch lists like eBay and Craig’s list. My insurance company informed me that my policy has a $1,000 limit for job-related equipment and let me know my future policy would be going up significantly if I reported the event. I had checked with my insurance before I went into business, but they did not understand that a dental hygienist in alternative practice was practicing independently and would have thousands of dollars worth of equipment in their car.

I quickly learned that insurance policies differ from company to company. It is vital to have a written policy that covers your equipment. It should specifically state that you have coverage while in transit when you are working. Inland Marine insurance (also called a floater) was created for those who work “in transit” and the risks associated with being in transit. Historically, the concept was developed when property was being shipped from one port to another and needed insurance. In the 1800s inland marine was added to this concept to insure property in transit by land. Today the Inland Marine Policy coverage for items that are excluded from insurance policies (such as home owners) because of the risks associated.

This can be everything from mobile medical equipment to the computer you are taking to the airport! There are many things you need to discuss with your insurance company when it comes to covering your equipment. Some insurance companies simply put a “rider” on the policy to cover these items.

Some things to review with your insurance carrier include:

  1. Our profession now allows the hygienist to come to the patient in many states. Many people do not know the scope, venue, and equipment required for our practice. Inform your insurance company that you are “in transit” with your equipment, as well as the cost of your equipment.
  2. Ask what type of policy covers your equipment — the cost, exclusions, limitations, and deductible for that policy
  3. Insists on a written policy that covers your equipment and spells out the coverage, deductible and exclusions.

I am back on the road again thanks to hygienists and companies that care. Each day I have come home to boxes filled with possibilities. Hu-Friedy replaced thousands of dollars worth of instruments, Maramar Hand Piece Trading Post reconditioned a unit for me and gave it to me for a song, Sunstar Americas gave me patient care items, 3M ESPE sent me sealant material, and friends sent me supplies and funds. I thank each of them and their acts of kindness; I am meeting the needs of end-of-life patients, clients living without homes, and children with bright smiles. Thank you all for making it happen!