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.

Providing Dental Services in the Hospital Setting

By Amy Wasdin, RN, CPHRM, Patient Safety Risk Manager II, The Doctors Company

Lack of familiarity with hospital systems can pose serious risk management implications.

Patients present to an acute care facility for a variety of reasons, such as emergency care, admission for ongoing treatment, surgical procedures and specialized nursing care. Unfortunately, appropriate dental care often is overlooked or not identified as a priority at the beginning of a patient’s course of hospitalization.

Good dental care is an important component to maintain overall health and well-being. When unchecked and untreated, bacteria that forms on teeth often can lead to more serious health problems. Poor oral care has been known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and respiratory infections, as well as other serious health conditions.

Dentists and oral surgeons often are credentialed and included in a hospital’s medical staff roster to provide dental services to emergency department patients and inpatients when needed. Providing dental care for a hospitalized patient is uncommon, and dentists and oral surgeons are not routinely consulted to provide dental services.

Because of the infrequency of providing dental care in the hospital setting, many dentists are unfamiliar with hospital and medical staff requirements that apply to the providers who examine and treat inpatients. The lack of familiarity with hospital systems and medical staff rules can pose serious risk management implications for the dental care provider.

Risk Management Strategies

  • Be wary of “curbside consultations” in which informal collaboration may find its way into the medical record. Consulting dentists have been sued by patients that they neither met nor examined because of inaccurate documentation by other providers in the medical record. If you are asked for input on a specific patient situation, it may be best to request a formal consultation so that you can document your thoughts and opinions in your own words.
  • Communicate clearly with other providers on the expectations regarding your involvement in patient care. Once you become a part of the care team, the lines often get blurred among providers regarding who is responsible for each aspect of care. Key information often can get lost in the transitions of care that occur in a hospital among caregivers. Clarify your role in the record, and communicate with other providers when there is confusion or cause for concern.
  • Familiarize yourself with the medical record beforehand — ask for training. Electronic medical records (EMRs) present unique nuances and special challenges to a user who is unfamiliar with the system. There may be templates or designated sections for your documentation. The EMR may not be easily navigated, so it is helpful to take the time to learn the various sections that you will need to use. It can be a powerful tool for provider collaboration if you know where to look for information.
  • Understand your documentation requirements. How often are you required to document your care of the patient? When does your documentation need to be finalized and available in the medical record? What do you need to include in your consultation notes? This information should be provided at the time of your appointment to the medical staff.
  • Request updates and revisions to processes and systems. Hospitals regularly update and revise facility operations as well as clinical policies and processes. Make sure that you periodically request updated information regarding any facility or patient care-related changes. Notice of physical plant changes may prove extremely helpful to you when you need to locate your patient to provide dental services. Notice of process changes will help you fulfill your obligation as a medical staff member to follow current policies and procedures.
  • Have a go-to person to contact for assistance when needed. Despite taking appropriate steps to be prepared to care for your patient, there are always unexpected challenges that may occur. Get to know your medical staff department coordinator or the facility risk manager. They can prove to be great resources when you need quick access to information. Also, if you can’t find someone for assistance after regular hours, reach out to the hospital administrator on call who will connect you with someone who can assist you.

 

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