Your Documentation Can Limit Your Professional Liability

The uncomfortable truth is that many dental professionals will, at some point in their careers, have a law suit filed against them by a patient. It’s not pleasant to think about, and something to steadfastly avoid, but the odds are ever increasing that it will happen eventually. There are some proactive steps that any dental professional can take to limit their liability with regards to malpractice cases, and many of them boil down to your paper trail. So, what kind of documentation should a sufficiently cautious dental practitioner keep on hand?

Patient consent forms should be on hand for every procedure that your office offers. Specialized forms should spell out in detail the general course of the procedure, any risks involved, and any follow-up treatment or recovery recommendations for the patient. It’s also a good idea to have a general dental treatment consent form which covers the procedures performed at your practice – fillings, extractions, cosmetic procedures such as crowns and veneers, and any surgical procedures that your office offers. The more detailed consent forms should be used to supplement this general form where appropriate. While not always required, they can be the best evidence that a patient was consented to any procedure.

It’s also important to ensure every patient that sits in your chair is aware of your office’s insurance and payment policies. A document spelling out how your office handles insurance claims, collection of co-payments, any payment plans that you may offer for patients who self-pay, or other items relating to invoicing. A signed document from the patient prior to treatment will help curtail any payment disputes in the future.

Finally, an arbitration agreement regarding any legal actions brought against you or your office is a must for inclusion as part of your patient registration documentation. A properly executed arbitration agreement can save you and your office the aggravation and expense of a lengthy and public trial. Arbitrators typically have more specialized knowledge of the issue in question than a jury, and will be better able to help both sides come to an agreement that is acceptable to all involved in the dispute. The entire process can often be handled in less time than it takes to respond to discovery request from a plaintiff.

These are just a few tips on what you can do to limit your exposure to that potential lawsuit. What to document and how much to document are questions not easily answered, and will vary with each patient encounter. The rule of thumb we have encountered is that never have we seen too MUCH documentation. When in doubt, write it down.

Written by: Roger Martin