Completing paperwork, dental forms included, is probably one of the most aggravating duties anyone has to endure – especially when it involves giving permission for something or revealing private information. As is usually the case when bureaucracy is involved, the need for form signing comes about because people have abused their right to be honest. In other cases, forms are needed to ensure that healthcare providers get as thorough and complete of a record as possible about a patient’s medical history that can be reviewed and updated regularly. Signatures on these forms keep those who are responsible for keeping these records accountable. In years past, when the relationship between oral health and overall health was not as clear as it is today, many dentists did not keep written medical history forms. Verbal confirmation was considered the standard of care for most. However, now we know that many of the ailments with which people are plagued and the medications that are used to treat them have a direct impact on oral health and the care that we as dentists provide. So, most of us are having patients complete very important documents like medical history and basic information questionnaires which require signatures to validate that such information is true and current.
As of April 14, 2003, most dentists as well as other healthcare providers, insurance companies, and the like, are required by law to have our patients sign one or more additional forms related to a new law called the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects a patient’s right to privacy. This law originated in the United States House of Representatives as the Kennedy-Kassebaum Act during the mid 1990’s, with the purpose of mandating the portability and continuity of health benefits, minimizing healthcare fraud, and simplifying the administration of healthcare insurance. In 1996, Congress piggybacked rules for privacy and confidentiality of patient information to the original act. Then, in 1999, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services proposed regulations to clarify patient rights and to regulate the disclosure and possible misuse of health records by all health professionals.
Although this law is broad and far-reaching, Ohio patients should rest assured that because of previously established Ohio laws most dentists in the state have been protecting patient confidentiality for years. We are now in the process of establishing the formal safeguards set forth in by HIPAA. As mandated by this new law, we are required to ask each of our patients to sign a form that acknowledges that they are aware of each of our practice’s policies of privacy. Other forms will be required by law to transfer copies of records to other healthcare providers, and fees may be charged for this service in accordance with the law. Since only those dentists who submit insurance claims by computer are required to comply with HIPAA, some of you may not be asked to sign any additional forms. However, if you are requested to fill out some new forms at your next dental visit, please do so willingly, understanding that your dentist is complying with a law that has been established for your benefit.