Malpractice Pitfalls for Dentist and Physicians

Dental Malpractice Insurance

Seven Common Malpractice Pitfalls for Dentist and Physicians

When a malpractice suit is filed against a Dentist or Physician, claims supervisors evaluate the case and all too often, claims are settled due to faulty communication and documentation practices.  These pitfalls both contribute to the circumstances that may have led to the patient’s injury and hinder the ability to effectively defend the doctor.  There is a great deal of overlap between these pitfalls because they mostly involve similar types of errors committed in different situations.


  1. Failure to Communicate with patients -Your communication skills are important to your patients’ satisfaction with your care and their perception of your professionalism and competence. The top three characteristics that patients rank as important in a 2009 survey was that their doctor pays attention to their concerns, is compassionate, and speaks in terms they can understand.  It’s important to listen to your patients.  Sometimes the doctor that is overworked , running behind schedule and struggling to catch up too often cuts the patient off before gathering the information needed to make a correct diagnosis.  Show empathy your patients want you to care about them as people.  When they’re suffering, they want you to show that you relate to their pain.
  2. Maintaining Illegible or Incomplete Charts – Never forget that the purpose of the medical chart is to provide for continuity of patient care and further more medical records are legal documents. Overtime you may have developed some time saving shortcuts when documenting charts just be aware that if these shortcuts diminish the quality of care you deliver, and if they result in a malpractice suit, the benefits of any shortcuts will be dwarfed by the consequences.
  3. Inappropriate Actions by Office Staff – It is important to remember that you can be held vicariously liable for patient injuries resulting from actions by your staff or others that you supervise.  Even experienced, trusted employees with the best intentions will sometimes expose you to liability by overstepping their roles. Define your staffs duties in writing.  Practices are advised to have a printed manual that defines job descriptions for each position as well as practice policies and procedures.
  4. Failure to order or follow up on Test Reports – You have a duty to read and follow up on any tests you order.  Remember that you are responsible for following up on tests results. A common source of malpractice claims is the failure to keep track of test and consultation reports.  If you do not have a tracking system in place, a significant report will eventually slip through the cracks.  A difficult situation is created when patients are told that they will only be contacted if their test results are abnormal.  If a report is lost or misfiled, the patient is left to assume that “no news is good news”.
  5. Failure to refer, track referrals and communicate with the Referring Physician – All doctors need to put patient safety first.  When you refer a patient, you should forward the medical records or at least a narrative summary of the salient information.  But simply arranging for the patient to be seen by a specialist does not mean you have made an effective referral.
  6. Prescribing Medications Inappropriately – At least 1.5 million patients are injured every year by medication errors, according to a study by the National Institute of Medicine.  Of the many types of medication errors, those that can be difficult to defend involve patients who suffer a catastrophic reaction to a drug to which that was a known allergy. Drug allergies should be posted prominently on the chart and reviewed before before prescribing.  Prescribing decisions should be carefully considered.  Known allergies aside, patients can suffer from unpredictable adverse drug reactions under a variety of circumstances.  Drugs most frequently involved in medication error claims are narcotic analgesics.  This is due, in part, to changes in physician attitudes toward prescribing opioid pain relievers.
  7. Obtaining and documenting informed consent – Informed consent is an extension of the doctrine of patient autonomy, which holds that the patient has the right to decide what is done to his or her body, including the right to refuse life-saving treatment.  While a patient’s consent is required it does not have to be written in all circumstances  but the absence of it may lead to legal presumption that the patient did not consent to treatment.  Therefore it is to your advantage to obtain written consent whenever possible.

Very little of the above information and suggestions should come as a surprise to you.  All of the pitfalls are lapses in what should be standard communication and documentation practice in every medical practice.

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 All contents provided here are for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site.  Always consult your legal counselor or adviser as to the suitability of using this information in your business or practice.

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