Electronic records offer many benefits to dentists and patients. They require less space and fewer administrative resources to maintain, while supporting improved clinical decision-making, leading to more effective diagnosis and treatment, greater patient safety and increased efficiency. On the other hand, electronic records present unique security and privacy risks, such as the potential for exposing the personal health information of patients to hackers and others with malicious intent. The design and implementation of an electronic records management system requires careful consideration in order to address these risks, including the use of access controls, audit trails, encryption and other safeguards.
The risk of exposing personal health information may be greatest during the transition from paper records to electronic records. Many factors converge to increase this risk:
staff may not be fully trained on using the new electronic records management system, increasing the likelihood of human errors;
during the initial implementation phase, the new system may not be fully functional, and its security and privacy features may be either turned off or set to a default minimal standard of protection;
the conversion of existing paper records to electronic format may require more frequent access to personal health information by a broader range of persons than would normally be the case;
records may be duplicated in both paper and electronic formats, potentially doubling the number of records that need to be protected;
the archiving, retention and disposal of paper records, if not carried out in a secure manner, may also pose a threat to security and privacy;
dentists may require assistance from third-party service providers to make the transition, creating an additional layer of complexity to the security and privacy risks that must be managed.