Do Dental Hygienists Need Dental Malpractice Insurance?

Dec 10, 2019 | Business Insurance

Dental hygienists have an awesome and challenging career. There may come a time that for some reason, there is a misdiagnosis or incorrectly done dental procedure that will turn any dental hygienist’s world around, and in turn, require Dental Malpractice Insurance.

A Hard Day’s Work

As a partner to the dentist, they work together to serve their customers to meet absolute dental care. They assist with the client’s oral health needs and problems. Each state has different rules and regulations making dental hygienists perform varying services. 

If an incident of malpractice happens while they are performing basic dental procedures, are they protected just like the dentists? What type of insurance will cover them? Doing what they do comes with several mistakes they might commit in the long run. Even the most expert dentist experiences this. As an independent insurance company here in Denver, Colorado, we want to discuss how dental hygienists can protect themselves. In addition to that, we will help you with the process. Let’s take a look.

Who are Dental Hygienists?

They are of big help to the dentists and the industry has a big demand for dental care specialists. Dental hygienists perform treatments and prevent diseases to protect your gums and teeth. They can become educators and perform other positions like researchers and administrators. That is because their job has a wide range of duties to carry out.

Dental hygienists perform different services depending on the state they work for. Some of their duties are:

  • Assessment of the patient’s oral health based on his health history
  • Evaluation of diseases such as gum disease or oral cancer
  • Dental charting, blood pressure, and pulse check
  • Processing and interpreting dental x-rays
  • Removal of calculus or tartar and plaque around the gums
  • Application of sealants and fluoride to the teeth as prevention for cavities
  • Administration of anesthetics 
  • Instructing patients about maintaining proper oral hygiene and good nutrition for dental health
  • Evaluating study casts or model teeth of patients

Working with people is one of the enjoyable moments of dental hygienist experiences. However, they are unsafe if a client complains about their service. Worse, if the client files a legal complaint about their negligence or malpractice, what will happen? 

What Happens During A Malpractice Suit?

The client who filed the lawsuit must present some evidence before the case pushes through. He must provide proof of established doctor-patient relations with the dentist or the dental hygienist. The damages must be well-presented showing negligence or unfollowing of standard procedures. The case would likely be dismissed if a patient has no health problems after insisting that he was prescribed the wrong prescription.

Your insurer would send in their lawyer and the other party would present their own. Witnesses would be called as part of the prosecution. You will be asked to present documents of your patient. It is highly recommended that you maintain being organized when it comes to patient records. If you missed those important notes or have been altered, you might be facing another legal problem soon. 

Most of the time, after discovering the evidence, lawyers of both parties agree to a settlement. Only a few cases proceed to a trial. If the case proceeds and the client wins, it will taint your professional reputation and might revoke your license. Not to mention the costs of defense and settlements that would put you to financial loss.

What Are Some of the Most Common Failures That Lead to Lawsuit Issues?

Most people think that dentists have higher risks of being named in malpractice lawsuits. National Practitioner DataBank states that dental hygienists or dental assistants got reported for medical malpractice and adverse action reports. It reached up to 2,530 reports between 2003 and 2013. Some of the cases included are discussed below.

As a dental hygienist, some claims are filed more often than others against other professionals in the business. Working with the public as a dental hygienist exposes them to dealing with the patient’s well being and safety. By being aware of what some of these common pitfalls are, you can be more careful to avoid them yourself. 

Failure to Notice Oral Cancer

One of the main reasons that dental hygienists find themselves facing a lawsuit is due to their failure to notice and report oral cancer. Professional hygienists are trained to spot cancer growths, but sometimes a hygienist is in a hurry and misses some of those tell-tale symptoms. This can become a big financial problem if you don’t have adequate dental malpractice insurance.

A Patient Injury

Though you’d never injure any patient intentionally, accidents can and do still happen. It’s only a matter of time before you injure a patient while cleaning their teeth, even if the injury is very minor. More often than not, the injury isn’t a big deal. Most of the patients are quick to forgive and move on, especially when a sincere apology is given. But you never know for sure how a patient will react and how serious the injury may be, so it’s best to protect yourself.

A Failure to Keep Patient Medical Information Private

Medical professionals all know that they should never discuss any of their patients’ medical history with anyone else. If you share medical information about any of your patients with anyone besides the dentist, you’re putting yourself at risk. You will be facing an angry patient and a lawsuit. Take that extra step to protect yourself against this mistake.

Failing to Inform Your Patient About Other Treatment Options

As a medical professional, it’s your job to make sure that each of your patients knows their treatment options. That includes the consequences of not going through with suggested treatment. If you fail to inform a patient fully about the risks of not seeking treatment, it could come back to bite you. He would be upset especially if there are other options available to treat them. Protect yourself with full coverage of malpractice insurance.

Wrong Administration of Drugs

Some patients have adverse allergies to drugs and applied medications. Failure to look after a patient’s history that leads to injury may cause a lawsuit especially if it is life-threatening. A patient’s record shows his drug history and the current ones to keep track of what medicines suit his body. It may result in adverse reactions to patients and can be fatal. 

Some cases such as the wrong amount of given anesthesia when it is too little cause pain and injury to the patient.  On the other hand, too much may cause severe side effects. Observe proper sanitation to avoid any infection to the patients. These may result in arising lawsuits after some time so it’s best to abide by careful sanitary practices. What type of insurance coverage should a dental hygienist have to protect himself from all of these?

What is Dental Malpractice Insurance?

Dental Malpractice Insurance is another term for Professional Liability Insurance. It covers legal costs if a malpractice claims against dentistry professionals. In most cases, hygienists rely on their employers to provide this insurance. An employer can not provide enough protection for these professionals because their insurance puts their needs first. It is still best to acquire dental malpractice insurance of their own to work without the fear of lawsuits. 

Dental hygienists can benefit from the protection of malpractice insurance just as much as dentists can. In fact, any professional that provides health-related care should cover themselves. This is important in case something goes awry. Though hygienists don’t face as many lawsuits as dentists do, there are still times when lawsuits occur. Spending more or less $100 per year is already a good investment to safeguard a hard-earned profession.

There are two different types of dental malpractice insurance available to hygienists. These include occurrence policies (General Liability Insurance) and claims-made policies (Professional Liability Insurance). With these two types of dental malpractice insurance, the time when the incident happens is very important. This will determine if it will be covered by the insured’s policy during the time of the claim.

What is an Occurrence Policy?

Suppose a client suffered from an incident inside the dental clinic. He did not file any claim until one year after that incident. He sued the owner at this time when his policy had already expired. The owner is still eligible for the coverage even if he has transferred to another insurer. That is because the incident happened at the coverage period of his previous occurrence policy.

For hygienists that go with an occurrence policy, coverage continues even after leaving practice. It doesn’t matter when the claim is made, the hygienist has protection and carries it over into retirement. Even if their insurance expires, they must ensure that the incident was during the time that it was covered by their policy. It must occur within the effective dates of the agreement. This type of coverage is considered to be the most comprehensive of the malpractice insurance types. 

An occurrence policy can be given with these certain conditions:

  • The malpractice occurrence must be within the period of insurance coverage
  • The insured doesn’t know the liability before purchasing the policy

What is a Claims-Made Policy?

The other type of dental malpractice insurance that hygienists often opt for is the claims-made policy. This type of insurance protects against lawsuits, but only those filed while the policy is active and the hygienist is still practicing. If they decide to leave their practice or retire, this type of insurance policy doesn’t remain active. Any lawsuit filed against them at that point will not be covered.

Some hygienists decide to get a tail coverage policy along with their claims-made policy. This will protect them for a specific amount of time after they retire or leave the practice. The claims-made policy comes with retroactive dates too. If this is included, this means that the incident must fall on or after the date of the policy starts to run or the claim won’t be covered.

Conditions that are needed to be covered by the claims-made policy:

  • The damage claims must be within the period of the policy or extended period of reporting
  • The damage must happen on or after the retroactive date

For instance, a customer claims that the dentist made an error in giving professional advice. The dentist has a policy during the time of that incident. Apparently, when he filed the claim his policy lapsed even before he could place the claim. The dentist then won’t be eligible for the coverage. The claim would push through up to its limit and terms of the policy. This is in case that the policy is ongoing during the claim filing.

When Should You Consider Getting Your Own Dental Malpractice Insurance?

Why should you consider stand-alone insurance? If you take on your employer’s insurance, it will cover all the professionals named in the lawsuit which means the coverage will be shared. This limits your coverage you end up getting as the hygienist. There are benefits to getting your own policy that will follow you if you switch practices. Also, if there are any gaps in insurance should you lose your job.

Providing consultations and advice to patients might go wrong in some ways you can’t imagine. Should your employer provide insurance, but what will happen if the limits are exceeded for all the covered dental professionals? You might shoulder some legal fees and put your license at risk. Purchasing your own malpractice insurance ensures your safety from lawsuits that might arise. You would have control over your choice of coverage, deductibles, and limits. It will help you protect your career and finances.

So now that you are aware of some benefits of getting your own malpractice insurance policy. In what situations should you especially consider doing so? 

Here are times when it’s probably a good idea:

  • If you currently work in more than one office or if you’re a freelance hygienist temporarily
  • If you volunteer your services at schools, nursing homes, or health clinics that don’t offer any insurance coverage or sufficient coverage
  • If you want to set your own policy limits and deductibles and be more in control

Under any of these circumstances, getting your own policy offers that extra protection.

Give us a call!

Learning about some of the benefits of having dental malpractice insurance as well as the risks of not having full coverage. Now it’s time to move forward with setting up an insurance policy to protect yourself as a dedicated dental hygienist.

Give us a call today to discuss what kind of policy is right for you. We’ve helped countless other dental hygienists in Denver, Colorado (along with many other states) who understand the importance of a malpractice insurance policy, and we want to do the same for you! Our team is always ready for your queries should you decide to acquire insurance for your safety. We look forward to hearing from you!