6 October 2009
Q. How does a clinician adhere to the Data Protection Act (1998) when ordering items for their patients from a dental laboratory?
Dental Practitioners sometimes find themselves wondering just what patient information they should be sharing with a dental laboratory in order for the appropriate lab work to be constructed, but at the same time being aware of the need to protect patient confidentiality.
In the UK the problem has been greatly simplified since members of the laboratory team became registered as Dental Care Professionals with the General Dental Council. Like all the other registrants, they are subject to the same professional obligations that apply to everyone whose name is entered into that register. In this respect, the laboratory team has an obligation to safeguard all patient information which has been shared with them.
The clinician will decide how much patient information needs to be shared with the laboratory on a case by case basis. In some cases it will simply be the patient's name on the lab ticket which, for obvious reasons, will also contain the practice name. In other cases the clinician may wish to convey more information to assist in creating an appropriate aesthetic result; for example, that the patient is an elderly-looking 65 year-old. If that is the case then it may be appropriate to seek the patient's specific consent for that information to be conveyed.
Any decision about the patient details that are given to the laboratory will very much depend on the specifics of the situation. For example, if the laboratory work is being processed locally then the patient might be concerned that their personal information is being shared - although they can be assured that the laboratory team are fully aware of their obligation to keep information confidential.
The situation is somewhat different if the technician is invited into the surgery to meet the patient and to review the laboratory work at the chairside when they will have access to all the appropriate information that has been collected about the patient.
Apart from deciding what information the clinician needs to share with the laboratory to enable the prescribed laboratory work to be successfully completed, it is important that the clinician has been given reassurance by the laboratory team that they are aware of their professional obligation to ensure patient confidentiality.
The laboratory worksheet forms part of the patient record and as such it should be stored securely for the same length of time as the rest of the patient record. Dental protection would advise that practitioners keep records as long as possible but in any event a minimum of 11 years for adults. The reason for this is that claims can arise many years after the treatment is provided.
Further information on record keepin is available from the clinical risk management modules available within the library stored on the Dental Protection website.