In 2020, dentists navigated many unforeseen challenges and transitions. From wildfires in the West, to hurricanes and flooding in the South and the COVID-19 pandemic around the globe, the year was not easy. As has become clear, it is vital for dental practices to discuss their emergency preparedness plans and make improvements where necessary.

Besides the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergencies dentists report facing most commonly are prolonged power outages and computer system failures. Below, we take you through some of the steps you should follow to make sure you and your practice are ready for anything.

  1. Create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

An EAP is vital for dealing with unforeseen situations. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a well-developed plan will limit injuries and facility damage during an emergency. The plan should be written down and available for employees to review. For staffs of 10 people or fewer, the employer can communicate the plan verbally. The EAP should include:

  • Procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency
  • A plan for evacuating the building and for designating employees to remain to perform rescue or medic operations
  • A procedure for accounting for all employees after an evacuation

Dentists should also consider how patient health information is protected in the office and how that data could be better safeguarded against emergencies to comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) rules.

Pro-tip: OSHA has a “Create your own EAP” template that makes writing your EAP much easier and faster.

  1. Create a business continuity plan.

In the wake of a disaster, dentists will need to know not just how to get through it, but how to continue practicing despite it. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are several elements you need to consider when thinking about continuity:

  • Existing plans and procedures. After an emergency, your normal procedures may need to shift on a dime. Think about how procedures could change or pause depending on the circumstance. Also, it’s a good time to review your insurance policies and be aware of the disasters that are covered and the ones that aren’t but should be.
  • Equipment. Not all equipment is easy to replace. Think about where you store your equipment and what risks it is exposed to. Keep electronics off the ground in case of flooding and consider keeping important records or data in a fireproof safe. Also, make sure first aid supplies, emergency power equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) are accessible, plentiful and up to date.
  • Personnel. Be aware of how many staff you have and how far they are from the office to know who may be available during and after an emergency.
  • Back-up systems. Consider storing your records — or copies of your records — offsite, so they are safe in the event of a disaster that damages the office facilities.
  1. Identify resources to help recover after the emergency and while preparing for the next one.

Often, a disaster isn’t just one event — there are lasting effects and aftershocks that continue to impact the practice. A storm or flooding, for example, can bring issues like mold and mosquitos.  After dealing with the immediate needs of the practice during an emergency, turning to the next steps can be overwhelming. Thankfully, the ADA Center for Professional Success has resources to help. Visit the site for guidance on ensuring data backup and system recovery, caring for staff after a disaster and more.

Dentists are reminded to visit the New York State Dental Association website for up-to-date information on NYS Health Law alerts and more. MLMIC also encourages dentists to monitor updates on our resources page and find additional guidance for dental practices on our blog.