HIPAA, Dentistry, and You: 6 Common HIPAA Mistakes for Dental Offices to Avoid

HIPAA, Dentistry, and You: 6 Common HIPAA Mistakes for Dental Offices to Avoid

Dental  |  HIPAA Guidelines  |  Healthcare

HIPAA compliance is critical for all types of medical providers, including dental professionals— as a HIPAA violation can be costly for your dental practice. 

Prevention is your best strategy, and that starts with a clear understanding of how HIPAA regulations apply to dental offices. Here's a bit about HIPAA, a list of HIPAA compliance mistakes you may be making, and how you can determine if your dental practice could benefit from a HIPAA audit now.


What is HIPAA compliance? In simple terms, it's one of the most important sets of government guidelines your dental practice needs to follow. There are four basic components:

Privacy Rule

The Standards for Privacy of Individually Identifiable Health Information, also called the "Privacy Rule," is the first established set of standards for how patients’ health information needs to be handled.

Security Rule

The Security Rule mandates that medical practitioners protect the electronic health information, or ePHI, of their patients, using up-to-date technology and administrative protocols.

Data Breach Notification Rule

The Data Breach Notification Rule under HIPAA law mandates that medical providers inform patients and authorities of any data breaches or if patients’ Protected Health Information (PHI) has been compromised in any way, such as by being disclosed to noncompliant vendors or stolen from your office.

Omnibus Rule

The HIPAA Omnibus Rule consists of four final rules that enhanced the Security, Privacy, Notification, and Enforcement Rules. These changes included provisions for the HITECH Act, which encourages medical providers to use electronic health records. Additional changes included incorporating provisions for the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

Top 6 Reasons Dental Practices Face HIPAA Violations

There are a number of requirements you need to follow to be considered HIPAA compliant. Here are the most common HIPAA violations found in dental offices:

1. Lack of Document Access Controls

Internal user security is critical for dental practices. You should have protocols in place designating different levels of employee access depending on their role in your practice.

It's important that your patient data be easily accessible to those who need it but it is equally imperative to ensure that users, vendors, and other entities do not have access when it is not needed. Make sure users have unique login credentials and secure passwords. Don't allow users to share passwords or use each other's logins.

2. Lost or Stolen Electronic Devices

Since your practice's technological devices store your patients' Protected Health Information (PHI) and Personally Identifiable Information, you need to ensure they are accounted for at all times. 

Ensure that your laptops and other devices are set to automatically lock and require password reentry after a short amount of time, usually around five minutes. All devices should be able to be wiped of data remotely in the event they are lost or stolen to avoid data breaches.

3. Lack of Proper Security for Medical Records

The chief reason to be HIPAA compliant is to ensure the security of patient medical records and information. This can mean physical security; if you still have paper charts, you should make sure your filing cabinets are locked and only key personnel has access to them. Or, if you use practice management software, make sure it has robust security features that prevent unauthorized access to patient records.

4. Lack of Employee Training

In many dental practices, employees don't receive enough HIPAA training on the job. They may get a basic overview, but training new employees typically focuses on how to use practice management software, how procedures are performed, and not necessarily HIPAA regulations for dental offices.

However, your employees are your primary defenses against HIPAA violations. Make sure your staff adequately understands HIPAA rules and your office protocol for HIPAA dental compliance. Offer refresher courses for established staff at least annually.

5. Improper Disposal of Electronic Devices and/or Medical Records

Medical records that need to be disposed of — including those on electronic devices — should be done so with security in mind. Paper records should be shredded and electronics should be wiped clean of all data before handing off to a verified third-party e-waste recycling facility.

6. Failure to Develop a Risk Management Process

Your dental practice should have a complete, written risk management protocol and should provide a copy to each employee. Your entire team should be on the same page about how your practice will mitigate risks from the front desk to the procedure room to check out. 

HIPAA violations in the dental field do happen, so you should have a detailed plan of what to do in the event of a data breach. Keep this information in a binder or a shared online drive that is easily accessible to all employees.

Does Your Dental Practice Need a HIPAA Audit?

You may think your dental office does a good job maintaining HIPAA compliance, and you may be right. However, a single mistake could result in a violation and a hefty fine. It's important that you have a solid HIPAA compliance checklist and are as proactive as possible to stay ahead of any changes to HIPAA guidelines. 

Here are some signs your dental practice may need a HIPAA audit:

  • You don't conduct an annual HIPAA security risk assessment
  • Your practice doesn't have formal policies in place to ensure HIPAA compliance
  • Your staff isn't adequately trained on HIPAA compliance
  • Not all of your data is protected
  • Your data isn't encrypted when transferred
  • Your partners or vendors aren't HIPAA compliant

Still Not Sure? Use Our HIPAA Assessment Calculator

At Integrity Systems & Solutions, we know how important HIPAA compliance is for dental practices and how hard it can be to achieve. We also know the dangers of not being in compliance, so we're committed to helping you know where your practice stands and where you need to make improvements. 

Use our free HIPAA Assessment Calculator to determine if your practice is following HIPAA guidelines or if you're at risk for being in violation.

We can help you bring your practice up to speed with regard to HIPAA compliance, so you can have peace of mind that your office is following all guidelines and you won't be caught by surprise by a HIPAA audit. Contact us today to learn more at 866-446-8797.