How to protect your dental practice's data with a paperless workflow

August 15, 2012

The largest benefit of a paperless practice is the ease of which you can protect your practice’s data. That may sound a bit odd with all of the technology scare stories out there, but it really is true.

The largest benefit of a paperless practice is the ease of which you can protect your practice’s data. That may sound a bit odd with all of the technology scare stories out there, but it really is true.

Your data is far safer in a properly set up paperless structure than it is in a paper-based office. By trusting in paper, dentists are putting their practice at risk.

Scenario No. 1
The first scenario that comes to mind is the practice that burns to the ground. A paper based office loses all patient records, business data and schedules. Because all of the practice data is effectively lost, how can they notify patients of the disaster or when they are reopening? The physical practice can be rebuilt, but how much time and money will be lost in recollecting data?

The same scenario played out in a paperless practice is quite the opposite. All of the practice data is backed up off site and is accessible to be restored. In reality, the data could be accessed the same day to notify patients of the disaster. The dentist and team members can use the patient data to reach out and update patients on the progress of rebuilding as well as reopening. Once the physical practice is rebuilt, all data is intact and the schedule is actually full because they were able to schedule patients based on having access to the data.

Scenario No. 2
Another scenario that could occur is that an office’s trusty cleaning crew moonlights as a data farmer for a ring of identity thieves. The paper-based office is a gold mine. The thieves could randomly pull files and easily copy down the personal information of patients within minutes. Think of all the data the file has. Not only are we talking full name, employer, social security number and birthdate but conveniently located in the same file is also that patient’s signature. Who do you think is legally responsible for protecting the patient data?

The paperless practice has a large advantage in this scenario as well. Because there is a password required to gain access into the computer, the cleaning crew would need to know that. If they somehow acquired this information, they would also need to know an additional username and password to open the practice management software. To further complicate the matter, the thieves would need to know how to use the practice management software to decipher the data.

Scenario No. 3
A third scenario that could occur is that trusted employee who decides to start cooking the books to increase his or her personal income. The paper-based practice only has the paper records. If the selfish employee has a lot of experience, he or she can easily fudge numbers and completely cover the tracks. With paper, there are no controls. How much money has disappeared from this practice?

The practice management software of the paperless practice logs all activities on a per user basis. If an employee decides to start adjusting invoices after printing a copy for the patient and pocketing the difference, the practice management software builds a digital trail of adjusted transactions. Every patient in the door and every payment made is recorded. There is effectively no way for such employees to fully protect themselves.

Just the beginning
The scenarios mentioned are just three samples of many other possible examples. There is really no practical way to protect a paper-based practice’s data as well as the data of a paperless practice. It is possible to open a paper-based practice in a bomb shelter with a large number of closed circuit video cameras, but realistically that will not happen. A paperless practice will always be much more protected with proper technology and educated planning. 

Tom Terronez is president of Medix Dental, a dental technology consulting company that provides dental practices the technical expertise, resourcefulness and solutions that will increase productivity and make the practice the best practice it can be. For more information, visit medixdental.com.