Every occupation involves risks and liabilities. Doctors are one of the most vulnerable professionals to legal actions. Dentists are at risk of malpractice every time they treat a patient. According to True Cost of Health Care, dental malpractice accounts for one out of every ten malpractice cases in the US. True, some mistakes are unavoidable. Mistakes in the medical industry, on the other hand, may result in malpractice claims. Dentists are not immune to malpractice claims, although the number of occurrences of dental malpractice is very low. To avoid getting caught in a malpractice lawsuit, here’s a guide to dental risk management.
Dental Malpractice Lawsuits
Simple cleaning procedures to complicated dental surgery are all part of providing dental care to patients. Dental treatments may go wrong in some situations, resulting in medical issues. According to statistics, the majority of dental malpractice claims are treatment-related.
Common Causes of Dental Malpractice
Dental malpractice happens when a dentist fails or neglects to give appropriate treatment to their patients. Patients may suffer from injury, harm, or death as a result of this failure or negligence. The following are examples of dental malpractice:
- Negligence in dental procedures
- Intentional misconduct
- Lack of proper sterilization of dental equipment and tools
- Insertion of defective dental products
- Wrong diagnosis or failure to diagnose oral diseases
- Lack of medical history updates
- Failure to diagnose oral pathology or periodontal disease
- Causing injury to patients
Common Dental Malpractice Claims:
Dentists who fail or neglect to provide proper treatment to patients may face malpractice lawsuits. The following are the most common dental malpractice claims:
- Oral structure damages like gum, tooth, jaw, or tongue damages
- Improper usage of anesthesia
- Infections resulting from unsanitized equipment
- Nerve or Tissue Injuries
- Wrongful Diagnosis
- Illness or injury resulting from failure to diagnose oral disease
- Prolonged dental treatment
A Guide to Dental Risk Management
Dental risk management is a strategy for detecting and identifying avoiding potential hazards that could harm patients. It helps dentists in providing better patient care and maintaining a professional reputation. Every practicing dentist will benefit from this dental risk management guide as it reduces the likelihood of dental malpractice lawsuits.
Dental Risk Management Strategies
- Risk Avoidance
Identifying and avoiding dental services that expose you to major legal dangers is one method to reduce your risk. What you can do for patients has its limits. Refusing to treat patients who are beyond your scope of practice reduces the chances of malpractice.
How to avoid dental liabilities:
- Avoid scope of practice violations
There are regulations defining dentists’ scope of practice depending on the field and specialty. Performing services without license or authorization is a violation of the scope of practice. Dentists acting within their scope of practice have a low risk of malpractice lawsuits.
Common scope of practice violations:
- Practicing dentistry without a medical license
- Prescribing medicine without dental therapeutic purpose
- Administrating anesthesia for non-medical procedures like lip tattooing or tongue piercing.
- Letting dental auxiliaries perform procedures not authorized by your state’s dental regulations.
- Identify and avoid common malpractice risks
The majority of claims and settlements, according to dental risk management experts, are treatment-related. Refer patients who require risky dental procedures to a specialist to prevent malpractice concerns. The following are some examples of potentially dangerous dental procedures:
- Extraction of bony impacted teeth
- Surgical placement of implants
- Complex endodontics
- Patients with significant comorbidities
- Risk Reduction
Dealing with patients and administering medical treatments come with risks. Dentists, on the other hand, can mitigate these risks by employing an effective risk-management strategy. Dentists must take precautions to minimize treatment errors to reduce these risks. The following are some guidelines dentists could follow to avoid treatment errors:
- Proper Patient Communication
Dentists and patients must have open lines of communication. Dentists must adequately explain to their patients the following information:
- Patient Diagnosis
- The possible outcome of the disease
- Treatments or procedures needed
- Alternatives, if any
- Possible risks associated with the procedures or treatment
- Treatment costs
- Detailed Patient Documentation
Dentists must keep detailed records of their patients via charting or computerized records. The patient’s chart must include the following information:
- Health History Questionnaires Form
- Allergies and Adverse Reactions
- Diagnostic Testing Reports
- Clinical Judgment
- Telephone Care
- Informed Consent
- Informed Refusal
To ensure detailed patient documentation, follow this charting strategy:
- Ensure all information documented is legibly written.
- Always indicate the date in chart entries.
- Sign all chart entries with your full name or initials.
- Charting must be in chronological order.
- All documents must indicate the patient’s name and medical alerts.
- Proper office management
The majority of professional dentists run their own practices. Running a physical office requires proper office management. Dentists, as clinic owners, are responsible for overseeing the clinic’s operation. Dentists and office personnel must do the following to foster positive patient relationships:
- Practice good telephone manners
- Maintain patient confidentiality
- Proper handling of appointment triage and patient scheduling
- Show respect to all patients
- Properly handle patient dissatisfaction
- Accurate billing and collections
- Proper patient discharge notification
- Dental record management
Every dental clinic should have a well-organized dental records management system. In the event of a malpractice lawsuit, the patient’s dental records are incredibly useful. Keep charts, imaging studies, and appointment books of all patients. When keeping dental records for patients, follow the 6/10/21 rule.
- 6 years starting from the patient’s death
- 10 years beginning from the patient’s last visit
- 21 years from the birthdate of pediatric patients
- Proper Handling of Treatment Refusal
Dentists must inform patients about the benefits and drawbacks of the treatment. In the event that the patient refuses treatment, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of doing so. If there are any other treatment alternatives, talk about them. Obtain a written notification of the patient’s refusal. If the non-treatment decision fails, a documented informed refusal prevents malpractice lawsuits.
- Adhering to Universal Precautions
As dental procedures involve exposure to bodily fluids, adhering to universal precautions is a must. Following universal precautions will reduce the transmissions of blood-borne diseases and infections. CDC developed a standard protocol for handling body fluids. It includes:
- Proper hand hygiene
- Use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Safe injection practices
- Use of sterilized instruments and equipment
- Proper disinfection of environmental surfaces
- Knowledge of Current Dental Practices
As science continuously changes and evolves, dental practices and treatments change. Dentists must stay updated with the current dental practices to prevent malpractice risks. To keep up with the latest dental practices, dentists must:
- Take continuous dental education
- Join dental study groups
- Attend professional seminars and conferences
- Join dental associations
- Read peer-reviewed research or journal
- Risk Transfer
Risks are always present in every workplace, but you can transfer them. Dentists can transfer their risks through:
- Referring patients to a dental specialist
General dentists must refer patients needing specialized treatment to a specialist. Provide a referral letter detailing the patient’s details, diagnosis, and treatments.
- Securing insurance policies
Insurance companies provide insurance coverage designed to protect healthcare professionals like dentists. Dentists who manage their own practices may require supplemental insurance plans. The following are some of the insurance policies practicing dentists may need:
- Business Owners Policy (BOP)
Dental clinic owners need BOP coverage. This insurance policy combines commercial property and commercial liability coverage. The BOP policy includes the following:
- Commercial Property Insurance
This insurance covers commercial properties whether owned, leased, or rented. It includes:
- General Liability Insurance
This insurance protects business owners like dentists against liabilities. It covers financial costs caused by injury or damage caused by the insured. It also offers financial assistance in the event of a lawsuit.
- Business Income Insurance
This insurance coverage protects business owners in the event their operation stops because of unexpected events. It provides cash assistance to replace the insured’s lost earnings.
Operating a clinic involves hiring employees such as receptionists and cleaners. Employers provide workers’ compensation insurance to their employees under state laws. Workers’ comp provides medical and financial support to employees who suffer from occupational injury or illness. It also shields employers from financial losses and lawsuits brought by their employees.
If you use your vehicle for commercial purposes, personal auto insurance will not cover it in case of an accident. You must secure separate commercial auto insurance for vehicles used in commercial activities.
This is a special type of liability insurance for healthcare professionals. It protects medical practitioners against liabilities resulting from a patient’s injury or death. It will provide financial support in case of alleged error lawsuits. This insurance comes in two types:
- Claims-made Policy
This type of medical malpractice insurance covers malpractice lawsuits while the policy is in effect. In some cases, patients file lawsuits years after the malpractice incident. This may cause problems for medical practitioners with claims-made policy as lawsuits may happen after the policy ended. Claims-made policy provision doesn’t cover lawsuits filed after the policy ended. That’s why it is advisable to get additional period coverage. You can avail of tail coverage on top of your claims-made policy. Tail coverage extends the coverage of the claims-made policy in a fixed amount of time.
- Occurrence Policy
This policy covers malpractice claims even when the policy already ended. It provides comprehensive coverage but is often expensive.
Doctors are among the professionals who are most vulnerable to malpractice liabilities. Each patient carries its own set of risks. You have the option of avoiding or reducing it. Transferring your risks, on the other hand, is the best method to manage them. Malpractice lawsuits can cost you your license, business, and savings. To protect your profession and business against malpractice lawsuits, ensure you have adequate insurance coverage.
We, as insurance professionals, are aware of the risks dentists face. We have a team of insurance experts to help you get suitable coverage to protect your dental practice. Call us now and let’s discuss how we can protect you.