This was originally printed in our Fourth Quarter 2021 issue of The Scope: Dental Edition. Read more articles from the publication here.

One of the most challenging times to be a dental practice owner is right after disaster strikes. Whether the emergency is related to weather, theft, cybersecurity breaches or something else, the owner must lead the office out of the crisis while mitigating the damage as much as possible. Recovering from a disaster at your dental office is possible, especially if the owner and other office leaders are familiar with emergency response protocol ahead of time.

Here are eight important steps to take after disaster strikes your dental office.

Immediately notify the appropriate insurance company in the event of a loss of dental records. Losing dental records is a critical liability risk. It’s important that dental professionals back up and protect their files beforehand to limit potential damage.

Promptly take photographs of the condition of the premises and its contents to show an insurance adjuster what has been damaged or lost in the way of equipment, furnishings and the premises itself, as well as the extent of the damage. This includes the loss or damage to patient records, photographs, X-rays and other patient information.

Retain the immediate services of a reputable restoration company to possibly contain any damage, as every effort should be made to recover all or some of the affected records and equipment. EHR experts should promptly be contacted for assistance with attempting to retrieve electronic records, photographs and X-rays. The insurer, NYSDA or the local dental society may provide recommendations for reliable companies to assist in the restoration process. Also, both the New York State Department of Health and the federal government have current resources online to assist in the retrieval process. If you are unable to retrieve PHI, there are additional resources online to provide advice about handling this situation.

Catalog all lost or damaged items, equipment and records. This can be a very difficult task. An experienced company can assist in this undertaking.

Thoroughly document all salvage efforts and the types and extent of the damage. This evidence is essential to help refute potential allegations of “spoliation of evidence” should a dentist be unable to produce patient records and X-rays during litigation.

Properly and safely dispose of records that are damaged beyond salvage or reconstruction of any type in a manner that prevents usage by anyone else, or the ability to access any PHI. Patients should also be notified of this loss of data.

Assure that a HIPAA Business Associate agreement is signed by any companies involved in restoration efforts to maintain the confidentiality of protected health and financial information. Such patient information must remain confidential even if records have been damaged. A dental professional’s duty to maintain the confidentiality of protected health information (PHI) is not waived merely because there has been a flood or other disaster.

Generate and maintain a record of the disaster, including date, time, what was damaged, the sources used for record reconstruction or attempted retrieval of X-rays, models, photographs of the damage, as well as copies of Business Associate Agreements with companies hired to attempt to salvage these items. This documentation will be useful for accurately replying to any future requests from an attorney, patient, government agency or insurer for a copy of dental records that were damaged or unsalvageable. An appropriate response can be prepared regarding the date and extent of loss of any items requested and the companies involved in the salvage and restoration process.

Enduring and recovering from a disaster is a very stressful time for dental practice owners, but it is possible. All of us at MLMIC are committed to helping you get through any challenge you face in your practice. Chances are, we have worked with dentists in similar situations before and we can use our experience to best support you.

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