Once a patient walks out your door their behavior is out of your hands. And as one dentist recently learned, that can mean trouble for your practice.
According to an article in the Portland Press Herald, a patient sued his dentist after a molar extraction resulted in an infection that required surgery to correct. The dentist's lawyer argued the patient skipped a follow-up appointment and ignored aftercare instructions. However, the jury found in favor of the patient, awarding him $300,000 in damages.
Even though you can't make your patients follow discharge instructions, you may still be held liable for damage their own behavior may cause. Clearly, that shows how important it is to carry dental malpractice insurance. But it also shows how important it is to make sure your patients understand their role in aftercare, too. Here are some tips to help you communicate discharge instructions to your patients.
Write Clear Directions
You want to make sure your patients understand the steps they need to follow after a procedure. This may include:
- Taking medications as prescribed.
- Rinsing their mouth with salt water.
- Avoiding activities such as using a straw or smoking.
While a face-to-face discussion is appropriate, you also want to hand patients written instructions they can take home. Make sure everything is written down in a clear, easy-to-understand format. Avoid being too technical or using confusing jargon. For example, instead of saying medications should be taken "orally" just say "by mouth."
Demonstrate When Necessary
What is second nature to you and your staff may not be to patients. This means you may want to carve out a few minutes to demonstrate dental hygiene best practices for them.
For example, you may need to show a patient how to brush their teeth post-surgery. Either you or a hygienist can show them the proper techniques. You might even have them practice in the office so you can correct them if they haven't quite got it down.
Review with the Patient and Ask Questions
Once you've given your patient their post-operative care instructions and demonstrated any techniques, spend a few minutes recapping the information. Ask them questions to see if they can repeat the instructions. If they can't, you may need to go over them again.
Next, ask them if they have any questions for you. According to an article in Inside Dentistry, many dental malpractice lawsuits are a result of patients who either had unrealistic expectations or felt their dentist didn't listen to their concerns. Making an effort to answer their questions can go a long way toward preventing a potential lawsuit. (Related reading: "Reduce Dentistry Malpractice Risk by Managing Patient Expectations")
Finally, encourage patients to call if they have any questions as they are recovering. Be sure to respond to them as quickly as possible.
Have Adequate Dental Malpractice Insurance as a Failsafe
Sometimes no matter what you do, patients still ignore your instructions. And if they develop an issue, like an infection, they may sue. Malpractice lawsuits can easily exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars. That's why it's important to have dental malpractice insurance. If you're sued, your insurance may cover…
- Defense costs.
Carrying adequate insurance is one of the most important things you can do to protect your practice. For help choosing the right coverage for your office, be sure to read "7 Things to Know before Buying Insurance for Your Healthcare Practice."