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Malpractice and liability within dentistry

What does it mean to be liable?

Being in a position where you are legally responsible for something.

What is malpractice?

When someone performs improper, illegal, or negligent professional behaviour.

Together, how do they impact the healthcare industry?

Liability and malpractice are terms which any business should be very aware of. Within healthcare, this concerns situations where a civil claim is pursued against the provider of healthcare if they cause death or injury to a patient through a negligent act or omission.

More specifically, how does this affect dentistry?

Being legally responsible for a person’s well-being is a delicate situation. In a dental clinic, accidents can happen at any time. Vigilance must be enforced throughout every aspect, however, some of the top liability risks aren’t related to physical incidences. How you described treatments and gave advice can also lead you down a dangerous path.

Areas often disputed

  • Undisclosed information – you failed to explore possible treatment options or potential risks.
  • Unsuccessful treatment – you damaged the tooth/nerve, caused injury or failed to spot other problem areas.
  • Misdiagnosis – you incorrectly, delayed or completely failed to diagnose a condition.
  • Disputed medical advice – you failed to provide solid professional council or referral to specialists.
  • Faulty products – you are held liable for use of a product that was or became faulty.

Potential consequences

Successful claims settled in court can result in:

  • Penalties and fines (not covered under insurance policies)
  • License suspension or revocation
  • Required additional training

Taking the moral high ground

Every professional is held to a set of legal and ethical standards varied upon their profession. As well as obeying the law, medical professionals must do all they can to serve the patients best interest. A dentists legal, ethical and moral duties largely concern the level of communication they have with a patient. Having transparency in a professional to patient relationship encourages trust, which results in better acceptance of treatment and outcomes.

Professionals who maintain a healthy relationship with their patients are at less risk of having a claim made against them than those who don’t.

How to avoid trouble

Identify, evaluate and anticipate the unfortunate situations you may face, in other words, implement risk management practices within your clinic. If you have procedures in place to ensure you always conduct yourself appropriately, you shouldn’t find yourself on the wrong side of a courtroom.

Some tips to keep positive relationships with each patient

  • Talk – be open, honest, lay out all facts and possibilities, listen to the patients’ opinions and consider their individual requirements. Respect their decision for treatment, it is about them at the end of the day.
  • Be up to date – keep track of changing standards and know what is expected of you.
  • Refer – referring a patient to someone with more knowledge in a certain area is not a bad reflection of your own skill set.
  • Follow up – make time to call and check how patients are doing following treatment even if they were referred. Making that extra effort with patient care will go a long way.
  • Look out for bigger issues – knowing the signs and symptoms of larger underlying issues like oral cancer will help to identify problems early and reduce negative patient reactions.
  • Document – Document every detail from the moment the patient walks in, to the completion of treatment and aftercare.
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