During COVID-19, dental offices have been diligent in efforts to keep patients and staff safe, implement the latest governmental mandates and avoid potential liability exposure. Two years into the pandemic, we have the benefit of research and experience to help dentists make the best decisions for their practices. Unfortunately, the end is still not in sight. New York State and the entire country are facing a surge of coronavirus cases due to the incredibly infectious Omicron variant. To help you handle the current situation, read our risk management best practices for dental offices during COVID-19.

Reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread during procedures

Thankfully, research has found that dental procedures during COVID-19 are not much riskier than taking a drink of water. Still, there are actions dentists can take to reduce the spread of aerosols during dental procedures. One option is to make these two small adjustments to dental drills, which have been shown to decrease aerosol production. Other options are to use an extraoral suction system, which reduces droplet spatter during procedures, or use teledentistry for some appointments.

Continue implementation of COVID-19 safety protocols throughout the dental office

First and foremost, make sure you are in adherence to the CDC’s guidance on infection prevention and control in dental settings during COVID-19. Other appropriate steps include:

  • Pre-screen your patients before they enter the office for appointments to make sure they haven’t had symptoms of or possible exposure to COVID-19.
  • Require visitors to wear a face covering that covers both the nose and mouth.
  • Implement physical distancing in the office by spacing chairs six feet apart and limiting the number of people in common spaces.
  • Encourage online payment to minimize time in the office.
  • Remove magazines, toys and anything else that could be a source of infection.

Follow up on canceled appointments

With the continued spread of COVID-19, it is likely that patients will miss or cancel more appointments than usual in the coming weeks and months. Dental offices need to have a well-defined process to follow-up with patients and re-schedule the appointment, to ensure continuity of care and enhance patient safety. For more tips on handling missed or canceled appointments, see our risk management checklists on office policies.

Encourage your staff to get the COVID-19 vaccine

Mandatory vaccination requirements are still murky for private dental practices in New York State, but dentists can (and should) encourage their employees to stay up to date on the vaccines and booster shots. The vaccine has proven very effective at curbing severe infection and hospitalization. The more people in your office who are vaccinated, it will be less likely that a mass transmission event will occur. And remember, it is important to lead by example and get your vaccinations!

Prioritize your own and your staff’s mental health

Mental health issues are prevalent among adults in the United States, and the COVID-19 crisis has only exacerbated those conditions for many people. Dental and medical professionals, in particular, have been on the frontlines throughout the pandemic, caring for others despite the difficulties they are also facing. It is vital that dental professionals take care of their mental health, which allows them to give a high level of service to patients. Check out our tips for caring for your well-being and share them with your team. 

Document, document, document

Keeping robust records is one of the best ways to protect your dental practice in the event of a liability claim. Our experience has shown that good documentation, which provides a comprehensive overview of the treatment plan and history, is invaluable in lawsuits. This is especially important during COVID-19 when more appointments may be missed or canceled. Be sure all that information, including attempts to reschedule, is included in the dental record.

Reach out to your professional liability insurer with questions and concerns

The challenges around COVID-19 open dentists to potential liability exposure. It is vital that dentists remain in close communication with their dental professional liability insurer to ensure that best practices are followed. When in doubt regarding a state mandate or local guidance, these professionals can provide the information you need to keep your patients safe and your office free from liability.

MLMIC’s Risk Management Consultants are available to assist insured dentists in their ongoing efforts to identify and address areas of concern related to patient communication. For guidance regarding a specific situation, please contact MLMIC’s Risk Management Department at (800) 275-6564.

In addition, policyholders can stay up to date on the latest risk management guidance and alerts by monitoring the MLMIC Dental blogThe Scope: Dental Edition, Dental Impressions and our Twitter and LinkedIn pages.