Navigating litigious timesNews
Posted by: The Probe 15th June 2021
Dentistry, much like other healthcare professions, comes with a certain level of risk for professionals. As society continues to become more litigious, dental professionals need to be more meticulous than ever, especially as even a minor mistake can lead to considerable trouble.
So how can professionals navigate running a successful practice during these tricky times?
Litigation in the modern day
It’s safe to say that claims against dentists are becoming more common. Just a quick Google search will reveal many legal firms that specialise in dental negligence claims, and this number is only increasing due to growing demand.
Research suggests that 90% of dentists now fear being sued, and as dental negligence claims have more than doubled in the last decade, this is understandable.[i]
The increase might be fuelled by the advent of more intensive procedures such as more dental implants being placed or simply a wider knowledge of dental negligence and people being more willing to take action. For dental professionals, it means that they have to be incredibly cautious if they want to ensure that their practice continues to operate successfully.
The dangers of legal action
Legal action against your practice comes with a number of unpleasant effects. Not only is there the chance that you will lose the case and potentially have your license revoked or, at the very least pay a large amount of financial compensation, but there is a stigma attached to legal proceedings as well. Patients are unlikely to want to keep visiting a practice that has been subject to legal action from an angry patient, and this is highly damaging for your reputation.
Litigation and the Covid-19 pandemic
Interestingly, the pandemic has been estimated to have far reaching effects. Dentists, much like other healthcare workers in the UK, offered a pillar of support for communities by continuing care throughout the majority of the pandemic thus far. Following temporary closures during the first national lockdown and re-opening with new regulations in place, the demand for dentistry was impressive. Practices faced the challenges that come with balancing increased patient demand with extra safety measures, such as fallow time between appointments.
Despite this, there are fears that dentists could be hit by a new wave of litigation, even once the pandemic has eased. As cases against dentists tend to be filed months, if not years after the treatment in question, this has inspired some locations – including certain states of the US – to provide immunity for healthcare workers against litigation regarding treatment provided in good faith during the pandemic.
In the UK, there are calls for the same protection to apply to dentists and other healthcare workers. However, at the time of writing, this has not yet become the case.[ii]
But how has the pandemic impacted litigation in general?
A study that looked at medical negligence claims provides small insight into what dentists could potentially expect in the future and why a larger number of claims could occur.
In this study, it points out that the delay or inability for patients to get access to treatment is likely to form a number of claims in the future. It also suggests that the number of claims during the pandemic has become much smaller. Whether this is because people realise the strains the healthcare industry is under or they are simply unaware of the legitimacy of making a claim during these times is unclear, but this lull in claims does suggest that there may be a peak once again when things settle down.[iii] Although we cannot know if a similar pattern will emerge in dentistry, it is possible given past trends.
As such, it’s important for professionals to evaluate all of their workflows and ensure they are protecting themselves as much as possible.
Protect yourself from litigation
To go back to basics, the best defence against legal action is to be incredibly precise with records. These are solid evidence of what treatments have been performed with patient consent – even in difficult, busy times it’s so vital to keep these up to date and ensure that everything is in order.
It’s also a good idea to address patient dissatisfaction as soon as possible – if a patient makes a complaint, find out the root of the problem and work through it together. The majority of problems can be worked out without any legal action if you are willing to take the time to put patients’ concerns to rest.
If things do escalate or you simply need legal advice, the team at lawyers4dentists are able to help. Offering award-winning advice, the team only work with dental professionals so are always up to date on all of the latest guidance and regulations that could apply to your particular case, giving you the best guidance possible.
Better safe than sorry
The pandemic has brought significant change to the dental industry, so it’s important to be prepared for all eventualities. Good record keeping is essential, but if you’re ever unsure or are facing legal action, seeking advice from experts who understand the industry is an excellent decision.
Author: Richard T Lishman
Managing Director of the 4dentists Group of companies
[i] All Med Pro. ()% of Dentists Now feared Getting Sued. Link: https://allmedpro.co.uk/90-of-dentists-now-fear-being-sued-are-you-sufficiently-protected/ [Last accessed March 21].
[ii] Medical Solicitors. Medical Negligence Claims and the Coronavirus Pandemic. Link: https://www.medical-solicitors.com/medical-negligence-claims-and-the-coronavirus-pandemic [Last accessed March 21].
[iii] Poole,N. Coronavirus and Clinical Negligence. Sage Journal. 2020: 25 (3); 97-98.