Leadership of the Arkansas State Dental Association is hopeful a Monday night meeting of the Arkansas Department of Health’s dental advisory group will result in “updated guidance” to address what the association had alleged were ill-conceived rules to reopen dental offices.
On May 11 the ADH issued guidelines for the resumption of elective dental procedures. An attorney for ASDA, which has around 1,100 members, sent a letter May 15 to Gov. Asa Hutchinson noting that “the manner in which the state bureaucracy has implemented these efforts has been an unmitigated disaster—one that has already led to needless confusion, frustration, and harm.”
For example, according to the association, the rules on scheduling are not definitive, leaving a dentist in possible violation if an inspector has a different interpretation. Also, the term “ample supply” of PPE also could be interpreted in various ways, leaving dentists at potential risk for a rule violation. Even more serious , the screening guidelines mandate that a dentist contact the local health department if they discover a patient has tested COVID-19 positive within 14 days of the dental visit. Alerting another agency of the health of a patient could be a violation of federal patient privacy rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 – often known as the HIPAA rule.
During the Monday meeting, Dr. Pierce Osborne II, ASDA president, said association members were “really upset” with the vague language of the initial guidelines. He also said members viewed the aggressive inspection routine as a negative because a vast majority may practice their entire career and never get an inspection.
“This felt punitive to our members. We felt singled out. … That was just very frustrating to us,” Osborne said.
Dr. Lindy Bollen, director of the ADH Office of Oral Health, agreed during Monday’s teleconference meeting to address the issues raised by the association. The rule requiring dentists to contact patient after the office visit could be changed from a required step to a “highly recommended” step, he said. Bollen also said he and advisory board members will review policy updates and other guidance before sent to dentists “so we don’t ruffle feathers” over something that may not be as clear as it should.
It is unclear when the ADH will update directives for elected dental surgeries and other procedures, but the association on Tuesday expressed confidence their concerns will be addressed.
“During the second meeting of the ADH’s Dental Advisory Group last night, the members found agreement on various levels of the concerns expressed by ASDA in the letter to Governor Hutchinson on May 14. The primary concerns about the number of patients per provider and the call-back rule were addressed. The board will meet soon to consider the changes and hopefully issue an updated guidance,” the association noted in a Tuesday statement.