The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way dental offices operate. Practices had to modify processes to prevent exposure to the virus. Wearing PPEs, opting for touchless onboarding procedures, and virtual consultations are just a few of the ways the dentistry world has adapted to the new normal.
In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) have updated their regulations and requirements for dental practices. Many dentists are struggling to keep up with the different rule changes.
Jill Obrochta, the founder of Dental Enhancements, shared her expertise about the various OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID-19 management updates in a Benco webinar. This article will outline her key insights that will help dental professionals navigate and implement updated OSHA and HIPAA requirements in preparation for any future inspections or audits.
2021 OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID Requirements for Dental Offices
Before we talk about how you can safeguard your practice from OSHA inspections or HIPAA audits, let’s first tackle the updated 2021 requirements for dental offices.
Back in May, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allowed employers to make the COVID-19 vaccination a requirement for employees. However, employers must still abide by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Civil Rights Act. For instance, those who are pregnant, have autoimmune diseases, or have specific religious beliefs may be exempt from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
The best plan for dental practices is to create a written COVID-19 vaccination policy. You can decide whether to make the vaccination voluntary or mandatory, but be sure to work with your HR or a dedicated resource for guidance on the ideal path forward.
Once you’ve created your internal vaccination policy, review and discuss it with everyone in your team. Ensure that everyone understands the policy and that there will be no misunderstandings. Have your employees sign the policy and keep it on file. This documentation will be necessary for any Health Department or OSHA inspections.
Infection Control for New COVID Standards
Infection control policies were already in place before COVID-19, but the pandemic necessitated many changes. According to Obrochta, there are 14 new protocols that dental practices must follow and implement. These are considered basic expectations for safe care and are likely to be what Health Department or OSHA inspectors will be looking for when they visit your office.
To better understand these new protocols, Jill Obrochta recommends reading the OSHA 3990. This template will help practices create and implement their pandemic preparedness plan, including a summary of the changes to infection control standards. Some of the updated standards include:
- Water Testing – The water that comes out of your dental chair unit must be drinkable. You can prove this by doing regular water testing and water shocking. Keep documentation on the tests to prove that you are fulfilling the protocol.
- Handpiece Sterilization – Dental handpieces are now required to be heated and sterilized after every use.
- Sterilizer Backup – Having one primary and one backup sterilizer ensures that every single load meets hospital-grade sterilization.
New Written COVID Protocols
Health offices should have updated COVID documents, OSHA and HIPAA manuals, and employee forms. You can use OSHA 3990 as a guide to comply.
The template has six sections, laying out how your dental office can answer all 56 protocols. It is the easiest way to update your pandemic preparedness plan because you can simply fill in and customize the existing template instead of starting from scratch.
Remember that updated COVID documents are a requirement. When a Health Department or OSHA inspector comes to your office, these documents are what they will immediately ask for within the first five minutes of the visit.
The American Dental Association also announced that dental offices must do hazard assessments. Since the pandemic is still ongoing and the environment is still adapting, practices must keep themselves informed on the news about the virus and update protocols accordingly.
Updated OSHA Temporary Emergency Standard
OSHA released a temporary emergency standard for healthcare settings last June. The good news is that dentistry is largely exempt from this federal regulation. However, practices keep following these key provisions:
- Screening – Everyone must undergo screening before entering the office. This process includes patients, employees, and non-employees alike. People with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are not allowed to enter the premises.
- Written COVID-19 Plan – Documentation is essential for practices during the pandemic. Make sure that your COVID-19 plan includes all updated documents and hazard assessments.
- Regulatory Authorities – Remember to pay attention to your state, OSHA, or other local regulatory bodies. They may enact more stringent standards for dental offices.
What Happens If a Dental Office Fails to Comply With OSHA and HIPAA Requirements?
Now that we understand some of the updated OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID-19 management regulations, let’s discuss what happens if a practice doesn’t comply with them.
One consequence of non-compliance with OSHA and HIPAA rules is getting fined. In 2021, one serious OSHA violation merits over a $13,000 fine. Willful or repeated violations can increase that number tenfold, warranting a fine of over $130,000!
Loss of License
Failing to comply with OSHA and HIPAA regulations can also lead to loss of license or even closure of your practice. Given how serious the consequences are, being proactive in OSHA and HIPAA compliance is essential to the continued success of your practice.
Loss of Trust
Financial losses aren’t the only reason to comply with OSHA and HIPAA regulations. After all, the purpose of having these policies is to safeguard yourself, your employees, and your patients from potential health hazards.
Compliance with OSHA requirements shows your employees and patients that you care about their safety and well-being. Non-compliance, on the other hand, may lead them to lose their trust in your practice and take their business elsewhere.
The 3 Must-Haves Before an OSHA Inspection and HIPAA Audit
Understanding the updated OSHA and HIPAA requirements (and the consequences of not complying with them) is only the first step. Now, let’s take a closer look at the solutions. What must dental practices do to ensure that they pass any OSHA inspection or HIPAA Audit? According to Obrochta, there are three things you must have:
#1: Employee Training
The key to ensuring that your practice passes any inspection is to build a comprehensive program, which includes keeping your workers trained and informed. All employees, whether full-time, part-time, clinical, or non-clinical, must be trained in five modules, which are:
- Basic Annual OSHA Updates – This includes anything from fire safety to bloodborne pathogens. The importance of this module is keeping your employees up-to-date on OSHA regulations.
- COVID Management – Employees must know and understand the COVID management protocols of your facility. Inspectors will look for proof of training for this module, so remember to keep all documentation on file.
- Infection Prevention and Control – In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and OSHA created a summary of infection prevention for dental offices. As such, many state dental boards require this module when renewing your license.
- Chemical Safety – Each employer should have a uniform COVID or Global Harmonization System update for their office. This international chemical safety program includes safety data sheet updates and explanations on manufacturer labeling systems. It’s only required once in a lifetime, so ensure that it is already implemented in your practice.
- HIPAA Rules – For HIPAA, the protocol mandates that you train every time your practice undergoes a technology update. If your office has new computers, updated software, new encryption programs, or any changes of that sort, you will need to submit a HIPAA update with proof of training.
#2: Updated Documents
The second must-have for OSHA inspections and HIPAA audits is documentation. You will need to produce updated documents for everything because these will be what an OSHA or Health Department inspector will look for. Documentations will be needed for:
- COVID Management Policies
- OSHA Manuals
- Employee Forms
- Vaccination Forms
- Safety Data Sheets
- HIPAA Manuals
- Risk and Hazard Assessments
#3: Facility Protocols
Finally, the third must-have before any inspection is your facility protocols. There are about 150 to 200 OSHA and HIPAA protocols, and each one should be updated and implemented in your dental practice.
Combine what you’ve learned from the training and all the documents to create a comprehensive pandemic preparedness plan that ticks off all the requirements. The goal is to have a plan in place that helps keep you, your patients, and your employees safe and minimizes your exposure to COVID and other potential infections or hazards.
Learn More About How to Succeed at OSHA and HIPAA Compliance
Set your dental practice up for success by staying on top of OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID management regulations. If you need more information on how to comply with these requirements, check out the Benco webinar “Bullet-Proof Your Dental Office: Conquering OSHA, HIPAA, and COVID-19 Management Successfully” with Jill Obrochta.
Every month, Benco provides valuable and educational webinars such as these. Stay tuned for an upcoming workshop that will delve into more detailed and comprehensive discussions with Jill Obrochta, one of the dental compliance industry’s most well-renowned coaches. Join this exciting new “Wizard of Oz”-themed educational event and learn more about OSHA and HIPAA compliance from the experts!