Dental Students and HIPAA Violations

HIPAA Laws Are Big in Dental Practice

HIPAA's Privacy Rule is big in dental practice, just as HIPAA is big in other medical and healthcare practices. The American Dental Association confirms that dentists must generally comply with HIPAA privacy laws. A dentistry practice becomes a HIPAA covered entity when it submits a HIPAA standard transaction electronically, such as an insurance claim form. HIPAA standard transactions are routine in many dentistry practices. Dentists may also contractually bind themselves to meeting HIPAA privacy requirements even where their practice does not involve standard electronic transactions. Once HIPAA privacy laws apply, they require a practicing dentist and the dentist's staff to strictly adhere to several substantial requirements. According to the American Dental Association, when HIPAA applies, the federal law requires a dentistry practice to do each of the following:

  • Designate a privacy and records security official
  • Regularly assess the risk of electronic patient information
  • Implement written privacy and security policies and procedures
  • Display HIPAA privacy notices to patients
  • Take reasonable precautions to prevent HIPAA violations
  • Adhere to HIPAA's minimum necessary information disclosures
  • Train staff and restrict business associates
  • Provide timely notice of HIPAA breaches to affected patients
  • Maintain HIPAA documentation for the required period

HIPAA in Dental Student Programs

Dental schools must train their students in HIPAA requirements, not just to prepare for dentistry practice but also to protect dental patients who participate in the school's course of clinical studies. In the course of their clinical studies, dental students come across abundant protected health information of clinic patients. Dental students learn names, addresses, Social Security numbers, mental and physical health conditions, disabilities, and diseases, and other individually identifying health information of the patients their school's clinic examines and treats. Dental students also come across photographs, videos, test results, and other protected health information. Indeed, dental programs will commonly require dental students to discuss, report, reflect, and otherwise share protected health information in the course of their studies. In short, a dental program is ripe with opportunities for the student to unintentionally violate HIPAA's Privacy Rule, especially insofar as the dental students are still learning the customs, protocols, and conventions creating safe harbors from HIPAA enforcement actions. If you are a dental student, you need to watch out for HIPAA violations.

Example Dental School HIPAA Policies

Dental schools nationwide maintain HIPAA policies to which they require their students to adhere. The leading University of Washington School of Dentistry, for example, maintains several HIPAA policies. Those policies include (1) safeguarding patient privacy, (2) using and disclosing patient information within authorized consent, (3) enabling patients to access their protected health information timely, and (4) requiring vendors and others to comply with the dentistry's HIPAA requirements. The Indiana University School of Dentistry is another leading example, ensuring that its students comply with HIPAA and that its clinical patients know their HIPAA rights through a prominent HIPAA policy. For another example, the University of Buffalo's School of Dental Medicine cautions students never to post dental photos or other protected health information on social media. Your dental school should offer you coursework and clinical supervision to help you understand the scope, reach, and enforcement of HIPAA standards. But don't let down your guard.

HIPAA Enforcement in Dentistry Practice

Dental schools must take their HIPAA obligations seriously, due to the substantial sanctions the Department of Health & Human Services' Office of Civil Rights (OCR) can seek against covered entities violating HIPAA standards. For example, one report shows a $12,000 regulatory fine against a dentist who hired a company to dispose securely of records that the company instead dumped into a nonprofit's open dumpster. HIPAA penalties can be far greater for willful violations. HIPAA sanctions for the most-egregious violations can include civil penalties up to $50,000 per violation, criminal fines up to $250,000, and imprisonment for up to ten years. Another report shows a dental practice paying a $10,000 HIPAA fine for posting a patient's name and other identifying information in response to the patient's Yelp review. The OCR likely accepted the smaller fine because of the small size of the dentistry practice and the limited disclosure the practice made. More-serious cases could result in much larger sanctions.

Dental School Discipline for Violating HIPAA

The prospects for a dental student facing a civil or criminal HIPAA penalty are probably very small, especially for unintentional or mistaken conduct. But the risk of dental school discipline is far greater. Dental students must not only meet academic requirements and general behavioral standards having to do with things like alcohol or drug abuse and crime. Dental students must also show that they can act professionally, including meeting the legal requirements for dentistry. The American Dental Education Association promotes a Statement on Professionalism, specifically pointing out the student's obligation to respect the rights of others. HIPAA laws are at the core of those obligations a dental student and dentist owe to others, specifically to patients. In short, your dental school may bring unprofessionalism charges against you for alleged HIPAA violations. Those charges could result in discipline up to and including expulsion. HIPAA allegations place at risk everything for which you have studied and worked in dental school.

Defending Dental School HIPAA Charges

If you face dental school HIPAA charges, you should have a substantial opportunity to defend and defeat those charges if you get the skilled and experienced student defense attorney help you need. Dental schools must generally provide due process to students whom the school charges with serious misconduct, potentially warranting suspension or expulsion. Due process means that the school must inform you of the charges in enough detail for you to defend and then give you an opportunity to tell your side of the event, disproving the school's allegations. Your school will likely constitute a hearing panel or board if you properly invoke the school's procedures. Don't go it alone. Don't try to manage a complex administrative hearing without the professional student discipline attorney help you need. Retain premier student defense attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm's student defense team to aggressively and effectively defend HIPAA charges. Attorney Lento has helped hundreds of college and university students nationwide preserve their education. Attorney Lento is available to help you defend and defeat false, unfair, exaggerated, and unsupported HIPAA violation charges. Even if you have already lost your proceeding, let attorney Lento negotiate with your school's oversight officials for alternative relief that preserves your dental education. Get the help you need. Call 888.535.3686 or go online now.