Management + Leadership

How to stay organized and HIPAA-compliant in clinic

Starting clinic in dental school is a refreshing change of pace for students. The excitement and anticipation of treating patients also comes with the responsibility of keeping track of everything you do. For many students who are in charge of contacting their own patients to schedule appointments, it is critical to have a system in place so no one is forgotten. A missed appointment here or a rescheduled visit there can easily cause a patient to slip through the cracks if we aren’t aware of all the care we provide.

The nightmare scenario we want to avoid is forgetting to reschedule a patient for an appointment that should have been done ages ago. What are the best methods we can use to keep track of our patient pool — whether or not you read every patient’s chart every day or week — while staying within the bounds of HIPAA policy?

A quick search online will tell you the 18 identifiers that qualify as patient personal identifiers (name, age, etc.), or protected health information. Our student digital electronic health record systems contain every single one of these identifiers (and more) for a patient. While we are logged in securely at school or through a remote server, it is no issue to keep track of patients. However, most of us do not live at school or are not logged into our EHR all the time. Even those who do have easy access to a remote server may prefer other means of staying organized outside of the software solutions provided to us as clinicians. After discussing with my school’s clinical and security HIPAA compliance experts, I learned best practices to stay compliant to HIPAA while attempting to streamline the multitude of patients, appointments, classes and other responsibilities that dental school throws at us.

Keeping track of patients within your institution’s digital records system

This is probably the easiest, most worry-free method of keeping track of your patient obligations. While operating within the EHR, you can use its multiple features such as the patient’s chart and notes, the universal scratchpad, and even messaging to keep lists of patients’ needs, appointments, etc. While operating within the EHR, you are not assuming any additional risk of exposing private information. However, the downside to this method is the limited capabilities of the features discussed; most are simply word processors with no ability for formatting, tables, checklists or dynamic functions. This approach does work, though, if you’re on top of the patient pool and frequently updating treatments and appointments.

Considerations for other methods of organizing your patient pool

For those who may want to create new ways of managing your workflow, the most important step to safeguard your data is to double-check the security of your method with your school’s HIPAA compliance experts, which may include the clinical director and IT experts. Each school handles their patient data in different ways with different degrees of freedoms. For example, the mail and office productivity client our school uses is HIPAA compliant and, therefore, offers additional software options to manage patient records outside of the EHR. Your school may have other viable options for managing data outside of the digital realm as well, and the best way to find out is to ask.

~Harish Balasubramani, Pittsburgh ‘22, ASDA Electronic Editor

Harish Balasubramani

Harishwer Balasubramani is a fourth-year dental student at the University of Pittsburgh. He currently serves ASDA as an electronic editor and was previously secretary of Pittsburgh ASDA and content coordinator for District 3 ASDA.

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