Managing complaints & claims
Patient complaints, whether warranted or not, are a fact of life for every practice.
How you handle them can make the difference between a stressful life and potential damage to your practice or a great outcome and an enhanced reputation.
The following are some practical tips but for further advice or just a chat about how we can help your practice please contact us at:
020 7933 0343
Handling a complaint
Patients will complain for a variety of reasons, some valid but some born out of misunderstandings or issues with meeting the cost of treatment. Whatever the reason how you approach a complaint can make all the difference:
Be calm: You may not agree with what is being said, a patient may be abrupt or even rude but you should maintain a calm, detached approach.
Say you are sorry: Often misunderstood, showing simple empathy does not mean admitting liability. “I am sorry this has happened to you, let me take a look”, “I’m really sorry you feel this way, let’s go over what has happened and see what can be done”. Sorry can often defuse a tense situation allowing you to engage with the patient and assess the complaint in
a dispassionate way.
Make notes: Make sure you accurately record any conversations and keep these notes on the patient file. If it’s not written down it didn’t happen!
Advise your indemnifier: Here at Densura we are here to help. You will speak with one of our practicing dentists who make up our team of ten dento-legal advisers. This will not affect your premium but it will take the stress away and you will feel supported and cared for.
Practice Owners: make sure your dentists have adequate indemnity insurance
While the majority of claims are notified within 4 years of the treatment, we do see claims coming in over a much longer period, or that the alleged negligent period of treatment may span a long time period. At Densura we only provide occurrence indemnity. This means that we will cover any valid claim for treatment carried out while insured with us regardless of when the claim is made.
Please ensure all Dental Practitioners, regardless of what capacity they work in, have in place appropriate indemnity cover with a dental defence organisation or insurer (Densura recommend a minimum of a £10m limit and no policy excess) and that the indemnity position of each Dental Practitioner is checked annually. The Dental Practitioner’s indemnity certificate must be kept on file and maintained for 10 years.
If you have any dentists that worked for you that you have concerns about the quality of their work, it is worth trying to keep updated contact details or track where they work so that they can be contacted if an issue arises at a later date.
What do to when you receive a complaint
Complaints can arrive in many forms. Upon receipt of a complaint (written or verbal) or a request for records from solicitors, a letter of Notification, a letter of Claim or notification of legal proceedings, immediately identify the Dental Practitioners involved in the patient’s treatment, provide the relevant details to the patient or the patient’s solicitors, and obtain the patient’s or patient’s solicitor’s authority to disclose a copy of their correspondence to the relevant Dental Practitioner/s as well as a copy of the patient’s dental records.
As soon as the patient’s authority as above is received, forward the relevant correspondence to the Dental Practitioner/s and request that they notify the matter to their medical defence organisation or insurer.
Make sure that you get written confirmation that they have notified their MDO/Insurer and track the progress of any complaints to ensure complaints are being actively and correctly handled. It may be worth reviewing your Associate agreements in this respect..
In the event a claim is intimated against the practice on the basis of Vicarious Liability and/or non-delegable duty, the practice must also immediately notify Densura or their indemnifier of the claim in accordance with the policy terms. In the event of any uncertainty, always err on the side of caution and give us a call.
From our experience, the longer it takes to direct the claimant solicitor to the dentist responsible, the less likely that they will remove the practice from the claim and increases the chances of incurring costs.
What to do if you cannot trace the dentist(s) who provided the treatmentIn the event a Dental Practitioner involved in the patient’s treatment or a dentist named as a Defendant in any legal proceedings is missing, uncontactable or cannot be traced, immediately notify us. This is your greatest exposure to incurring costs but an area that we can help you. We have had much success in tracking down dentists wherever they may be in the world and getting them to notify their previous indemnifiers. This process is made even easier if we are the insurer of a dentist that has left the practice as we will start defending the claim on behalf of our insured even if they cannot be located.
What happens if the claimant still wants to pursue me as Practice owner and not the dentist who provided the treatment?Sometimes the patient or more likely the law firm acting for the patient is not interested in involving the treating dentist or dentists and they prefer to go after the practice owner. While frustrating, the patient has this right and recent case law supports them. If your corporate or Practice owner cover is with Densura and the treating dentist is with Densura then you need not worry. We will deal with the claim on your behalf but any payments or costs will go against the dentist’s policy. Some indemnity organisations will refuse to engage unless the claim is against their dentist. If the patient or their lawyer refuses to join the treating dentist to the action then you may have to deal with the claim and then subrogate against the dentist. Here it is important that you communicate with the dentist and their indemnifier and keep them informed of your intentions and actions. The indemnifier should agree to work with you and your insurer. At Densura, our Practice Owner cover can include Vicarious Liability cover or we can arrange a separate corporate cover to deal with vicarious liability issues. Either way we will be at your side guiding you through the process, providing support from our dentist advisers and our in-house legal team. We are assisted at all times by leading law firm Clyde & Co who are experts in dealing with dental indemnity and with vicarious liability matters in particular.
Is there anything else I need to know about Vicarious Liability?At Densura we have produced definitive guides around Vicarious Liability and non-delegable duty of care. Please contact us for further information. At Densura we work closely with FTA Law and as a part of our service FTAL can advise on your Associate contracts to ensure Vicarious Liability is addressed and the dentist has a contractual responsibility to engage their indemnifier where a claim is incorrectly brought against the practice rather the dentist. Please contact us for further details.
Why it is in the interests of the Dental practitioner to work with the Practice owner before they are named in a claim?Where a claim is brought against the practice on the basis of vicarious liability and/or non-delegable duty but involves treatment you provided to the patient, it is important that you cooperate with the practice at all times and that you promptly notify your medical defence organisation or insurer of the claim. By refusing to work with the practice will not spare you from getting dragged into a claim but will mean that you have no control of the matter. Densura understand the dynamics here, it is why we recommend placing the practice cover and the dentists’ cover with the same insurer. In the event of a claim against the practice it means a joined up response can be provided, reducing costs and stress.
Keeping everyone updated - communication is key
Once the above steps have been taken, write to the patient or patient’s solicitors to provide them with an update as to the steps taken. At the pre-action stage and where a claim is intimated against the practice on the basis of vicarious liability and/or non-delegable duty, the patient and/or the patient’s solicitors should be invited to defer the claim to the individual Dental Practitioners.
If you are unsure what wording to use in your letter, please seek assistance from the practice’s medical defence organisation or insurer. Densura will assist you with every step and help you to draft any letters.