My acquaintance and I both see the same local dentist and we’re generally booked with the same hygienist too. I ran into my acquaintance last week and she told me that her appointment had been canceled a couple of months back because someone on the team had COVID and she believed it was the hygienist we both see.
My next appointment is coming up in a couple of weeks and I’ve been waiting for some sort of notification about the situation. Nothing came, so I reached out to the office on my own and asked if it was true. Instead of getting a solid answer, I was told they can’t tell me because of HIPAA.
Isn’t that specific to a doctor/ patient relationship and doesn’t the dentist have an obligation to tell me she had it so I can take precautionary measures or postpone the appointment?
It sounds like you’ve gotten some misinformation. Let’s clear it up.
If the Hygienist Had COVID, She’s Not Contagious Now
You may want to familiarize yourself with the latest CDC guidelines. Those who have an active infection need to stay away from those who are not infected. The key word here is “active.” There’s typically about a ten-day window after symptoms appear in which someone can spread it. The CDC gives three rules someone must meet before returning to public after contracting COVID. All three must be met.
- It must be ten days since the person’s first symptoms appeared.
- The person must be fever-free for 24 hours without using any fever-reducing medications.
- All the person’s other COVID symptoms must be improving.
In other words, if someone at your dental clinic did indeed have COVID months ago, they should be fine to be in public now based on CDC guidelines. Moreover, they now have some degree of immunity to it and aren’t likely to pose any risk to you.
HIPAA Guidelines Prevent Dentists from Giving Names
Imagine if you unknowingly went into the office with an active infection and the doctor shared your name with everyone. First, knowing your name wouldn’t help them in any way. Second, you’d probably be upset your personal information was shared—and you’d have every right to be. Health professionals can’t share protected information like that. They have a legal obligation to keep identifying information private outside of specific situations, such as with other professionals providing care or when billing insurance.
Similar rules apply to employers. The dentist has a right to know his employee has been sick so he can take precautionary measures and know when it’s safe for a hygienist to return to work. However, if he shares that hygienist’s personal health information with others without her consent, he would be violating the law. He genuinely can’t tell you if any of his staff has had COVID or recovered from it. But, the bottom line is that he shouldn’t have to. It sounds like they did take appropriate measures when there was an active infection and are taking appropriate actions now. If you need further assurance or want to open dialogue with them, try asking about their policies and procedures rather than asking about specific employees. Best to you and yours.
This blog is sponsored by Auburn, AL dentist, Dr. Raymond Bolt.