Dentists’ Attitudes About HIPAA- Where do you fall?

I talk with numerous dentists and staff about HIPAA compliance in their offices as I travel and lecture on HIPAA compliance. I am deeply concerned about dentist and staff members’ attitudes about HIPAA compliance. I’d like to share with you to help you understand the attitudes I regularly encounter. You will see why I am concerned that the Office for Civil Rights (HIPAA police) is giving dentistry some special attention the next year or so.

These are listed in no particular order:

HIPAA Schmipaa – This is the bah-humbug of compliance with HIPAA and other government regulations. This is where a dentist and/or staff members feel HIPAA is an unnecessary set of laws they neither like or support, so they don’t/ won’t. They may be resentful of the government’s intrusion on their practice. They may selectively comply with regulatory requirements; the ones they will tolerate or cause the least inconvenience.

I have seen this group get clobbered like a punching bag by OCR for seemingly innocent HIPAA issues. Helping dentists in this group with remediation because they are being investigated by OCR for a breach or reported HIPAA violation is not only no fun, but it’s almost a waste of time. Nobody enjoys caring for someone more than they care for themselves. OCR enjoys making examples out of this group. For these folks OCR investigators dig out their regulation manuals to find things to nail the dentists for. These folks will continually face records fine amounts and will suffer shamelessly. suffer shamelessly. These folks should be considered uninformed and very dangerous.

It Won’t Happen to Me – This is the idea that things like this happen to other people I know; since it will only happen to other people it won’t happen to me.

Helping dentists in this group with remediation because they are being investigated by OCR for a breach or reported HIPAA violation is often difficult because the dentists (and often the staff) are embarrassed, or in shock. Working with these folks is truly a work under pressure as a lot of work has to be done within tight time frames. These cases often involve frequent contact with OCR investigators who are actively investigating. Under the best of circumstances dealing with OCR is unpleasant and they can be very demanding. An ocean liner doesn’t turn on a dime yet that is exactly what has to happen for this group.

I Am Good People and People Like Me, so If Something Happens the Government Will Take it Easy on Me – This is the concept that because you are good people (deacon of your church, member of city council, a rich and powerful pillar of your community, are a major campaign donor, are loved by your patients, are surrounded by great staff members and so on) that if you find yourself in trouble you will be okay and the gov’t will go easy on you because you are ‘good people’.

I have seen this group get clobbered like a punching bag by OCR for seemingly innocent HIPAA issues. Helping dentists in this group with remediation because they are being investigated by OCR for a breach or reported HIPAA violation is not only no fun, but it’s almost a waste of time. Nobody enjoys caring for someone more than they care for themselves.

Rule Follower by Nature – This group is are those who have always been rule followers. This doesn’t mean they like the rules, just that while they may question the rules privately they never test boundaries. For this group, it is easier to comply and move on to other things that matter; the rules are a fact of life.

• We have seen this group have to deal innocent HIPAA issues. Helping dentists in this group seldom involves remediation, breach report or HIPAA complaint to OCR. This group is quite pleasant to work with. For them it is a matter of fine-tuning their compliance programs to rough out the smallest details. Often, this group may teach us a thing or two about HIPAA compliance (it is not possible to know everything, but we sure know a lot because we have experienced a lot).

They Are Coming for Me – This group represents the opposite of the HIPAA Schmipaa. These folks have the idea that no matter what they do they are screwed and there is never enough they can do to protect themselves. This group will go to great lengths to follow the rules; they may lose sleep as they worry about whether they are doing their best (or wonder what they are missing).

We have also seen this group have to deal innocent HIPAA issues. Helping dentists in this group seldom involves remediation, breach report or HIPAA complaint to OCR. This group is quite pleasant to work with. For them it is a matter of fine-tuning their compliance programs to rough out the smallest details.

Do you identify with any of these? Recognition is step one. Step two, identify what to do about it, so your attitude doesn’t land you in hot water. We all know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but many dentists (like your patients) don’t buy prevention. As for you and your patients the cure is much more expensive than preventative efforts. Don’t wait until you need a root canal to get serious about your compliance program!

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