Is Your Dentist Giving You Your Rights Under HIPAA? Here's How to Help Protect Your Sensitive Medical Information

Your dentist always greets you with a warm smile and takes care of all your tooth aches with excellent care. But is she handling your medical records with the same quality care?

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Dental care is only one side of the health system. You should also be aware of how your dentist handles your sensitive personal information, including medical records and financial history. Here are some warning signs that you should talk to your dentist about how she's handling your information.

The costs and resources needed to comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) can sometimes cause small dental practices, like your small town dentist, to fall behind or become lax in compliance. Between 2014 and 2015, over 230 dental practices had a leak in their patients' records due to their practices not complying with HIPAA. That might not seem like a huge number, but realize that it translates to millions of patients having their sensitive information leaked to anyone who buys it (and the information might even be leaked on the internet).

Even if you have a clean medical record with nothing you'd want to hide from prying eyes, consider that included in your patient file are your date of birth, social security number, all addresses you've given, and even your family's medical history (since dentists routinely ask this). These are things you don't want to fall in the wrong hands!

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If your dentist isn't doing the following, then she's not 100 percent compliant with HIPAA, which could mean your sensitive information is at risk of being unsecured:

  • Does your dentist allow you to restrict disclosures about your information to insurers only if they pay for the services you've received in full?
  • Does your dentist give you an electronic copy of any of your information covered under HIPAA when you ask?

According to HIPAA compliance specialist River Cohen, if your dentist isn't fulfilling these two minor duties, chances are she's non-compliant with other HIPAA procedures. These are telltale signs your personal information is not as secure as it should be under HIPAA.

If you're worried about your personal information security, HealthIT.gov gives a few pointers on how you can help keep your information from landing in the wrong hands:

  • Don't post sensitive personal medical information online because it's not protected by HIPAA. Criminals and shady companies are clever and can use the little information you make public to dig deeper and gain access to your more sensitive information.
  • Don't store sensitive personal medical information on USB drives, smart phones, or laptops. According to Forbes, portable electronic device theft has increased by 90 percent or more in recent years. If you're going to store sensitive information on your phone or laptop, make sure to use a strong password so it's more difficult for criminals to access in case your electronics get lost or stolen.

Even if your medical history is spotless, being aware of who has your social security number and other sensitive personal information is important. If your dentist is showing signs of HIPAA non-compliance, it's best to have a talk with her about your medical information security. You should also be proactive in keeping your sensitive information safe by being aware of what you're posting online and having strong passwords on your portable electronics.

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