Record Keeping/Retention and Patient Access to Records

The Rhode Island Dental Practice Act defines the dentist's duty to release information and to make information available to the patient. Following is a summary of the main provisions:

A licensed dentist shall maintain a dental record for each patient which is adequate to enable the licensee to provide proper diagnosis and treatment. The dentist must maintain a patient's dental record and radiographs (x-rays) for a minimum of five (5) years from the date of the last dental visit. Records of minors shall be kept for at least five (5) years after such minor shall have reached the age of 18 years. Records must be maintained in a manner which permits the patient and/or successor dentist access to these records.

Said records must include the date, dosage and amount of any medication or drug prescribed, dispensed or administered to the patient.

Upon a patient's written request, a dentist shall provide a patient or another specifically authorized person with a complete copy of and a detailed summary of the patient's dental record, which includes all relevant data.

A dentist may charge a reasonable fee for the expense of providing a patient's record not to exceed cost.

Dentists shall maintain patient confidentiality in the storage and transfer of records pursuant to the provisions of the General Laws, entitled "Confidentiality of Health Care Information Act."

Access to records may not be withheld pending payment of the patient's account.

Faxing Medical Records
Before sending medical information via fax, take the following steps to protect your patient's privacy:

  • Make sure you get authorization to release records, dated and signed by the patient or legal guardian, before you fax information.
  • Never fax financial information. Faxing medical information on the basis of medical necessity can be justified in court, but faxing of financial data a patient deems confidential cannot be justified anywhere.
  • Before faxing, ask whether it is really necessary or whether mailing or sending by messenger would be better.
  • Only fax to a fax machine in a doctor's office or other secure area, not to machines in mail rooms, office lobbies or other open areas.
  • Use a cover sheet that contains the warning: "The following material is strictly confidential; all persons are advised that they may be prosecuted under federal and state law for sharing this information with unauthorized individuals."
  • As soon as the fax has been sent, call the receiver and confirm the fax was received. If not, use the "recall" to find the last number dialed and fax an urgent alert to that number and ask "all persons of goodwill to immediately and effectively destroy all documents received in the previous transmission."

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Rhode Island Dental Association
875 Centerville Commons, Bldg. 4, Suite 12 | Warwick, RI 02886
(401) 825-7700
(401) 825-7722, fax