Dentistry - A risky business

Dr Gerard Clausen

A wise man once said, “If you don’t invest in risk management, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in, it’s a risky business”.

As a young dentist, you need to have a well-balanced set of skills and knowledge. It can get frustrating but remember that practice makes perfect because hand skills take time to develop.

Communication skills can be considered a lifelong learning experience.

In 2015/2016, there were 1,025 AHPRA complaints made against dental practitioners. This was a 33.8% increase from the year before.

15% of the complaints were of treatment issues and the other 85% were about communication, lack of information, poor understanding or unprofessional conduct.

Good communication may significantly reduce claims. Acknowledging the problem and apologising is still the most effective way to resolve an issue or complaint.

A partner at a major claimants’ law firm in Melbourne specialising in medical negligence stated:

"…the medical profession’s service delivery, communication and explanation practices are the biggest drivers of patients seeking advice from lawyers… ".

Invariably a complaint or claim will require a practitioner to produce clinical records. Defence of the matter will rely upon what has been written and the accuracy and contemporaneous nature of the notes.

Maintain data and records

  • Radiographs
  • Study casts
  • Photographs
  • Written treatment plan (including fees and prognosis)
  • Maintaining appropriate clinical records of all investigations and treatment plans
  • Of value, not just for diagnosis, but for clinico-legal reasons

In the event that a patient expresses a concern to a practitioner one of the frontline management tools is full and frank discussion with the patient and open disclosure.

Open disclosure is the open discussion of incidents that result in harm to a patient while receiving healthcare with a patient or relevant representatives (eg carers, guardians). The essential elements of open disclosure are outlined in the national Australian Open Disclosure Framework.

Open disclosure

  • Best way to minimize your risk.
  • Is an effective risk mitigation tool
  • Assists in early resolution of a complaint or claim
  • Can help avoid the need for litigation
  • Cheaper than litigation
  • Less complex and less stressful

Always remember: just because you are a good practitioner, it doesn’t mean you are immune from complaints. Always maintain your composure and be professional. MIPS is available for 24 hour Clinico-Legal Support.

For further stats visit the AHPRA website

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