Risk management should be an integral component of dental practice. Establishing reliable policies and procedures is vital for dentists to enhance patient safety and reduce the risk of exposure to claims of negligence. There are many strategies dentists can implement, but here are three we consider to be the most important tips to effectively manage potential risks in your practice.

Practice clear communication with your patients.

Communication with patients is key to managing your risk. As the dentist, it is your responsibility to discuss issues in a way that patients understand and to verify that they understand procedural risks, findings or recommendations. An informed consent discussion should take place prior to any procedure and be documented in the patient’s dental record. 

Another important component of good communication is establishing and maintaining strong dentist-patient relationship. If you create trust with your patients, they will feel comfortable discussing their questions or concerns. “Simply put, patients do not sue [providers] they like and trust,” writes Beth Huntington and Nettie Kuhn in this BUMC Proceedings article.

Dentists should establish clear procedures for handling dissatisfied patients, dealing with unanticipated outcomes and discharging a patient from care. It is also important to promote effective communication between referring and consulting dentists.

Keep a well-documented dental record.

The dental record should contain a factual account of the patient’s care and treatment. It should include:

  • Findings on patient assessments
  • Procedures and work performed
  • Patient communication, informed consent, education and discussions about the treatment plan, expectations, progress and outcomes

If a claim of liability is ever made against you, having comprehensive dental records will significantly enhance the defensibility of your case. A thoroughly documented dental record will provide strong evidence and demonstrate what transpired prior to the commencement of litigation. Complete dental records will support, sometimes years after the fact, that a dentist’s assessment and plan of care at the time the treatment was rendered met acceptable standards of practice.

Take advantage of your professional liability carrier for advice.

Dentists should feel comfortable turning to their professional liability carrier for advice or direction when making difficult decisions. A professional liability carrier will provide insight from a risk management perspective to help dentists evaluate and determine what options are available and how to best meet the needs of the patients and the practice.

All MLMIC-insured dentist policyholders have access to 24/7 healthcare-related legal advice, as well as an array of risk management services which include access to commonly used forms such as informed consent and HIPAA. Practicing good risk management on a daily basis, while also having a trusted liability carrier to turn to when you are uncertain, is vital for protecting your patients and yourself throughout your career.

This article is part of our series, “Tips for New Dentists.” Click here to read other articles in the series or check out more topics on our blog! We also encourage you to visit our risk management page for more tips and our resources page for information related to COVID-19, New York State Executive Orders and more. If you’re interested in applying for professional liability coverage, dentists can do so online.