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Navigating Patient Disputes in a Dental Practice

By: Amanda Howard, Esq.

Patient disputes can arise in any dental practice, posing challenges for both practitioners and patients alike. Handling these disputes effectively is crucial for maintaining trust reputation, and patient satisfaction. In this article, we’ll explore common types of patient disputes encountered in dental practices and provide guidance on addressing them from a legal standpoint while maintaining professional integrity and compliance with legal obligations.

Patient disputes can stem from various sources, including:

  1. Billing and Payment Issues: Disputes may arise over billing errors, insurance claims or disagreements regarding fees and payment arrangements.
  2. Treatment Outcomes: Patients may express dissatisfaction with the results of a procedure or perceive that their treatment did not meet their expectations.
  3. Communication Breakdowns: Misunderstandings or miscommunications between the dentist and the patient regarding treatment plans, expectations or post-procedure care can lead to disputes.
  4. Service Quality: Patients may raise concerns about the quality of care received, including issues such as wait times, cleanliness or staff conduct.

Tips for Addressing Patient Disputes

  1. Listen Actively But Avoid Admitting Fault: When a patient expresses a concern or complaint, listen attentively. Allow them to fully explain their perspective, demonstrating that their concerns are being taken seriously. However, before a thorough investigation is conducted, avoid communications with patients that admit fault or making statements that could be construed as an admission of liability.
  2. Conduct Thorough Investigations: Conduct comprehensive investigations into patient complaints, gathering relevant evidence and documentation to provide to your attorney so that they may ascertain the facts and assess potential legal liabilities.
  3. Adhere to Legal Obligations: Comply with legal obligations governing patient rights, confidentiality, informed consent and professional conduct throughout the dispute resolution process.
  4. Document Everything: Keep detailed records of all communications, investigations, and resolutions related to the patient dispute. Accurate documentation is essential for protecting the practice’s interests and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements.
  5. Seek Resolution Collaboratively: Work collaboratively with the patient to find a mutually satisfactory resolution to the dispute. This may involve offering a refund or discount, providing additional treatment or corrective measures, or simply apologizing and reassuring the patient of your commitment to their satisfaction.

Dealing with patient disputes is an inevitable aspect of running a dental practice, but how these disputes are handled can significantly impact the practice’s reputation and patient satisfaction. Additionally, taking proactive steps to prevent future disputes can help ensure a positive patient experience and foster long-term practice success.

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