Disaster Preparedness for Your Dental Practice

By Julie Brightwell, JD, RN, Director, Healthcare System Patient Safety, The Doctors Company

Recently, hurricanes, floods and fires nationwide have highlighted the importance of planning for disasters. Hurricane and flood damage in Texas and Florida left practices without power for days or even weeks. Wildfires in California forced several dentists to quickly relocate their practices ― some permanently ― and to move scheduled procedures to different facilities. Is your practice prepared for this type of situation?

A disaster can overwhelm a dental practice, with damage that can include shattered windows, flood debris, power outages, disrupted telephone systems, computer and system outages, unsafe drinking water, destroyed dental records, medication exposure to temperature and humidity extremes, contaminated instruments and building structure failure.

Disaster preparedness requires a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, rehearsing and evaluating. Dentists are critical participants in disaster preparedness, ensuring that patient care and critical services are not interrupted.

Plan Ahead Now
Before the next disaster strikes, make sure your practice has a plan in place. A checklist, ordered by priority and customized to specific types of disasters, can provide the framework for a comprehensive plan. The checklist should include these elements:

  • A full-circle call tree that outlines who contacts whom.
  • Instructions for setting up instant messaging technology that enables staff to communicate without a wireless network or cellular data connection.
  • A Certificate of Insurance for your dental malpractice coverage, or instructions for contacting your agent or insurer directly to obtain proof of coverage. This document will be necessary if you are forced to temporarily relocate your practice or procedures.
  • Steps to follow upon returning from evacuation.

When Disaster Strikes
Planning today makes accomplishing the following tasks more feasible during a disaster:

Communication

  • Contact staff immediately to determine realistic time frames to return to work.
  • Notify external vendors and business associates of your practice interruption and targeted resumption of operation.
  • Implement staff briefings at the beginning and end of each day.
  • Create temporary phone, fax and answering services.
  • Establish patient telephone triage.
  • Implement temporary controls to ensure HIPAA compliance.

Computers and systems

  • Contact computer service vendors to ensure integrity and recovery.
  • Verify insurance coverage for repair or replacement costs and losses.
  • Evaluate applicable warranties and consider an information technology restoration service contract.
  • Inventory and document hardware and software.
  • Document the type and extent of both lost electronic and paper data.
  • Ensure data backup and periodically test compliance.
  • Re-establish filing systems and internal programs.

Dental records

  • Determine the extent of damage to, or loss of, patient records and filing systems.
  • Attempt to restore all damaged charts and document inventory findings.
  • Notify the state dental board for specific guidance pertaining to lost or damaged records.
  • Document all efforts to restore and protect existing records.
  • Reconstruct lost charts at the next patient encounter.
  • Contact your insurance carrier for restorative services and/or claim procedures.
  • Re-establish a filing system and temporary storage if necessary.
  • Obtain legal guidance for patient notification during recovery efforts.
  • Contemporaneously date and initial all late entries and duplicate information in context of recovery efforts.

In addition, create an inventory of all equipment and medications that may have been exposed to water or extremes in temperature. Repair, replace or discard damaged items appropriately.

Once your plan is in place, regularly re-evaluate its steps and update all contact information. Practice and rehearse the plan’s protocols. An effective disaster preparedness plan will help keep your practice focused on delivering care during an emergency.

The guidelines suggested here are not rules, do not constitute legal advice and do not ensure a successful outcome. The ultimate decision regarding the appropriateness of any treatment must be made by each health care provider in light of all circumstances prevailing in the individual situation and in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction in which the care is rendered.

Reprinted with permission. ©2017 The Doctors Company. For more patient safety articles and practice tips, visit www.thedoctors.com/patientsafety.

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