The American Dental Association (ADA) has requested the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide dentists with coronavirus testing kits to protect patients and staff. The ADA has also requested that dentists be protected against liability associated with the administration or use of such tests by treating them as “covered persons” under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act.
In a letter to the HHS, ADA president ADA President Chad Gehani wrote enabling dentists to test patients prior to receiving treatment will help lower the risk of dental personnel contracting the virus from asymptomatic patients. Dental staff are at an elevated risk of exposure to the novel coronavirus due to various workplace hazards, such as high-speed dental equipment that can hold germs for up to three hours.
While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has advised dentists to use either a negative pressure room or high-input suction devices to reduce exposure to coronavirus once they reopen, many dental practice’s lack these tools. Dentists also have limited access to personal protective equipment (PPE), such as N95 respirator masks.
By allowing then to test patients, dentists will be better able to determine the types of procedures they should performing and take the necessary precautions. Currently, most dental practices are only performing emergency procedures and screening patients by taking their temperature, reviewing their medical history and inquiring whether patients have travelled recently.
Congressional lawmakers also support providing coronavirus testing kits to dentists because it will not only protect staff and patients, but help to open the economy as well. By allowing dentists to test patients for Covid 19, they can protect themselves, staff members and other patients, and prevent the virus from spreading to others outside the workplace.
Dentists would refer patients that test positive for the virus to a physician and inform the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify hotspots. Although testing patients can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus through the dental industry, it is unclear whether testing kits will be made available and how long tests might be needed.
The Covid 19 pandemic has caused significant financial losses for dental practices and led to a huge backlog of dental needs in our population. Whether dentists will have access to coronavirus testing kits, dental equipment and PPE to treat patients in a safe manner remains to be seen, however. If you have concerns about the potential liability your practice may face during the Covid 19 pandemic, you should consult with a lawyer who provides legal services to dental professionals.