Are patients asking you if you had the COVID-19 vaccine? How are you responding?

By Olivia Wann, BS, JD

 

According to CDC, 39.3% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. The good news is that 74% of the population 65 years or older are fully vaccinated.

Our office is receiving numerous support calls about patients asking staff if they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. How do you respond to this question?

Most dental offices are operating with a voluntary COVID-19 vaccine program. There are those who decline the vaccine due to religious beliefs and those who decline due to medical reasons. There are also those who decline simply because they are not confident in the vaccine at this current time.

For example, if a patient asks their hygienist if she/he is vaccinated and the hygienist chooses to respond, that’s up to the individual hygienist. However, most people agree that sharing an employee’s vaccine status is considered private medical information. Here is where we ask that dental teams proceed with caution.

It is not recommended that front desk personnel share the vaccine status of clinical team members without the authorization of the individual team member. We respect the privacy of employees.

Unless the employee is also a patient of the practice triggering the status of a covered entity, HIPAA does not govern the sharing of vaccine information. However, that does not mean we can randomly share sensitive information. Such information regarding employees’ medical information must be safeguarded.

We encourage vaccination and provide the information available from CDC on the efficacy of the vaccine. Available under the American Rescue Plan to help small businesses, eligible employers with fewer than 500 employees can receive a tax credit for providing paid time off for each employee receiving the vaccine and for any time needed to recover from the vaccine.

Initially we thought wearing a “I’ve-Been-Vaccinated” pin might allay patient fears and encourage others to be vaccinated. If there were only one or two requests for a vaccinated clinician a week, then the demand was easy to satisfy with an employee who was willing to share that he or she was fully vaccinated. However, with dental teams divided on the issue, we would never want to alienate a non-vaccinated employee or have them feel discriminated for their personal decision not to be vaccinated, particularly when the reasons are based on religion or a medical compromise.

We suggest you practice simple dialogue to respond to patient questions regarding the vaccine status of your staff.

“Whether an employee is vaccinated or not, we are still taking all the precautions recommended by CDC which includes wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment and employing the proper engineering controls and work practice controls for our safety and that of our patients. We encourage our team and patients to be vaccinated. We respect the privacy of employees’ vaccination status just like we respect and protect the privacy of our patients.”

Hopefully with positive dialogue, we can ease the tension over the vaccine issue.

Modern Practice Solutions is working hard behind the scenes to keep our clients up to date on compliance issues. We have onsite and online services available. If you have a question regarding how to deal with the vaccine issue, please send me an email olivia@oliviawann.com.

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