Imagine having to start all over at a new dental office, trying to remember every aspect of your dental care and document the time, place and method in which the dental treatment was given. Can you recall exactly what month and year that old dental crown was placed to help your dentist determine whether you need a new one? Don't worry -- most of us can't. But thanks to your dental records, your dentist will be able to determine your need for treatment in no time.
Many patients don't have a mental timeline of every treatment, which is why your dentist keeps track of it for you. Your dental record is an official document used to record all of your transactions within your dental office.
It's also called the patient chart, and the dentist and office staff use it to document your dental problems and treatments, as well as the communication between you and your dentist. This history of your oral health could come in handy one day -- like medical records, dental records are often kept for other dentists and dental specialists who may need to treat you in the future.
Keep Your Opinions to Yourself
Whether you're moving, switching dentists, getting a second opinion or are in need of a dental specialist, your dental records will help your new dentist better service you (although they may not make for interesting nighttime reading). Your patient chart contains mainly clinical information, providing your new practitioner an objective viewpoint about your dental health. While dental records are incredibly detailed, they usually don't contain your payment history or your dentist's personal opinions of you. Instead, you can usually find proposed and completed treatments plans, diagnostic records, X-rays, home dental care instructions, consent forms and any correspondence between you and your dentist, including verbal conversations.
It’s the Law
Many patients have questions as to who owns the dental records, and why they're often charged to transfer records about their health. You may be surprised to find that the original document is actually the property of your dentist. But there are laws designed to give patients access to these files. Although patients may not take their dental records home, they have a right to see the documents and obtain a copy of them. Federal and state privacy laws are designed to regulate the transfer of dental records and protect patients seeking access to their files. The ADA Principle of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct also provides guidelines for dentists on how to handle the transfer of dental records.
If you need a copy of your dental records, speak with your dental office. It is your job to request your records, even if your dentist has referred you to a specialist. Many states require the dentist to get permission from the patient to transfer records -- if that's the case, your dentist will provide you with a release form to sign. Your dental office may also be able to advise you on state and federal laws regarding your records.
Dentists may charge a fee to transfer your dental records, which covers the cost for copies, supplies, labor and postage or messenger service. The laws on fees vary from state to state, but transfer fees deemed reasonable and customary are often standard in the dental and medical industry. Moving dental records can actually save you time and money in the long run -- for example, if you've taken a full set of mouth X-rays recently, it will most likely be cheaper to transfer your records than take a whole new set of photos at your new dental office.
On the Move
You often hear about advancements in dental technology, and these days even dental records are going high-tech. Some dental offices are switching to computerized dental records, reducing paper files and making transferring easier. Although just a small percentage of dental offices have automated records systems, they are catching on. The future of transferring records will hopefully mean less waste and production time -- ideally, at the click of a button, dentists will be able to send records to other medical professionals in a matter of seconds!
If you do need to switch to a new dentist, ask your current dental office about their policies regarding your dental records. Most dental offices keep records for a number of years as required by law, but it's always a good idea to transfer the records as soon as possible to help establish yourself as a patient. It's standard procedure for dental offices to transfer dental records, and because they want you to have the best professional dental health care possible, many are happy to do it.