Best Practices for Patient Record-Keeping and Data Privacy – Part 1

  • Dental Administrative Assistant
  • May 23, 2024
  • 4 min read
Best Practices for Patient Record-Keeping and Data Privacy - Part 1

In the modern dental office, maintaining accurate and secure patient records is critical. 

If you are a current or aspiring dental administrative assistant, dental front office assistant, treatment or benefits coordinator, or dental office manager, this article is for you!

This two-part article will identify key best practices in patient record-keeping and data privacy. These best practices apply to the entire healthcare industry, but particular attention will be paid to explaining their relevance to dental professionals. 

Broadly interpreted, these recommendations focus on principles that can be applied outside of the healthcare industry. Carefully consider which of these best practices are worth adopting to enhance your own personal technology usage.

Secure Storage Solutions

Secure storage solutions are the cornerstone of effective patient record management. The dental industry has seen significant advancements in this area as the adoption of computer technology continues to increase.

Electronic Health Records (EHR) Systems

Dental EHR systems provide the foundation for securing and efficiently managing patient data. Computerized records systems enhance operational efficiency and significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information. That said, there are undeniable risks associated with computerized records systems. 

At the advent of the transition to digital records, hardware failure represented the most significant risk of data loss. As cloud-based systems have become more popular, the risk of data loss due to hardware failure has decreased substantially, while the risk of data breaches has emerged as the new most significant risk to patient privacy.

Now that most dental practices utilize EHR, the focus can shift from the long-term adoption cycle that occurred over the past twenty years to providing improved training for dental professionals and adopting more advanced cybersecurity tools, including zero-trust identity protection solutions that reduce the risk of unauthorized access to personal health information.

Regular Data Backups

Conducting regular data backups used to be a critical step for dental offices in safeguarding patient information against data loss due to unforeseen circumstances, such as system failures or cyber-attacks. 

Data backup processes remain relevant for all digital-based records systems, but instead of individual dental offices needing to download patient data each week onto an external hard drive that is then stored in a fire-proof safe or off-site location, these processes can be automated via digital mirroring protocols built into cloud data storage solutions.

Large cloud service providers (e.g. Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud) provide the base-level infrastructure for cloud-based EHRs. These providers compete based on price and their robust feature sets and maintain data centers around the world in order to minimize the risk of disruption.

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Access Controls

Your dental practice can have the best EHR (designed to practically eliminate brute-force attacks that allow hackers to access the system by forcing their way into the system), built upon the best cloud service provider’s infrastructure (designed to secure your data against both hackers and hardware failure), and it still might not be enough to prevent a data break if you do not have proper training for your staff and proper access controls.

Staff must apply cybersecurity best practices at all times. For example, it is critical for staff to use strong passwords on your office’s computer network, email provider, and EHR that they have not used in other systems before. They must make sure to always lock their computers when they walk away from the keyboard, even for a moment, and also take care not to save their credentials on a device that they subsequently use on public, non-secure networks. Finally, they must regularly reset their passwords under the assumption that they will inevitably be compromised.

Beyond applying password best practices, you must establish stringent access controls to ensure patient data is accessible only to authorized personnel. This is particularly relevant in dental practices where the sensitivity of patient information necessitates strict confidentiality. For example, most EHR systems have settings that prevent all users (except for designated administrators) from exporting data out of the system. These security settings can be time-consuming to configure, but the investment is worthwhile in the long run.

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Part two of this article will review several other significant areas to consider as you seek to enhance the record-keeping and data privacy practices for your office. It should be published soon, so don’t forget to return in a few weeks to learn more!

Yu Lee
Healthcare Administration Program Chair

Born in South Korea, Yu Chung Lee moved to Las Vegas to attend Spring Valley High School and then UNLV. She is now a member of our educational staff and is the instructor for one of our dental administrative assisting…Read Full Bio

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