Professional indemnity is a requirement of our registration, but why? And is that all it is? Kristin Trafford-Wiezel, Case Manager at Dental Protection, unpacks the issue
It’s a really simple question, though incredibly important – what is indemnity and why do we need it?
I know there are quite a few people out there – and being honest, I was one before I started working at Dental Protection – that took out indemnity with their free policy while at university, didn’t really think very much about it again, and simply renewed that policy each year. Back in those days professional indemnity wasn't actually a requirement, though I thought it seemed like a pretty smart option to take up.
These days having appropriate professional indemnity insurance is a requirement of our registration. This is set out in our overarching and all-encompassing Code of Conduct, Section 8.5: “Practitioners have a statutory requirement to ensure that practice is appropriately covered by professional indemnity insurance.”  Which then directs us to the Board’s professional indemnity insurance registration standard.
The Dental Board of Australia’s Registrations Standard: Professional Indemnity Insurance Arrangements 2016 is the more detailed document. In the first instance, this document defines what a professional indemnity insurance arrangement is, in that it “means arrangements that secure for the practitioner’s professional practice insurance against civil liability incurred by, or loss arising from, a claim that is made as a result of a negligent act, error or omission in the conduct of the practitioner. This type of insurance is available to practitioners and organisations across a range of industries and covers the cost and expenses of defending a legal claim, as well as any damages payable. Some government organisations under policies of the owning government are self-insured for the same range of matters”.
The standard also sets out the Dental Board’s requirements for professional indemnity arrangements. This includes the information relating to:
• Who the standard applies to – which is all registered dental practitioners except those with student or non-practising registration
• What you must do – including what your professional indemnity insurance must cover
• The amount of cover – ensuring that you take out adequate and appropriate insurance or professional indemnity cover
• Any exemptions. This issue is summed up very succinctly in that there are no exemptions to the standard.
• What this means for you. When you apply for registration, when you renew your registration, during your period of registration, providing evidence of your professional indemnity and also, an area that many may not consider – when you cease practice.
Lastly, it also sets out: “What happens if I don’t meet the standard?” The National Law establishes the possible consequences of practising without appropriate professional indemnity insurance. There is also a page on the AHPRA website containing information about the standard, including additional resources such as a Fact Sheet and Common FAQs.
We agree to abide by all these guidelines and standards every year, as we work through the paperwork and acknowledgment statements and renew our registration with the Dental Board. So please do ensure you are familiar with this information and your obligations.
What else is there to professional indemnity?
Your professional indemnity is there to support you in claims of clinical negligence. This may be the first thing you think of when you consider why you need professional indemnity: people are terrified of being sued. So in the event that you see that dreaded letter from a solicitor, your policy can respond to assist you where appropriate, such as engaging a solicitor on your behalf to assist in your defence.
But what other things can your policy assist you with? Your professional indemnifier can assist in responding to other matters such as tribunals, investigations regarding claiming of fees, criminal investigations and notifications to the regulator regarding you or your practice. And this is in fact where we spend a substantial amount of our time assisting members, as we assist in protecting both your reputation and professional registration.
The receipt of these types of official documentation can be a distressing and upsetting experience for us as healthcare providers, and not something that anyone wants to go through, which is why Dental Protection focuses on safe practice and averting problems in the first place. And this is where the additional (and what we see as huge) benefit of your indemnity insurance with Dental Protection is – that we provide advice and collegiate support to our members.
A lot of the above issues may have actually started as a patient complaint – to you, the front reception, your dental assistant – and then worked its way on from there. With this in mind, you can see how helpful it can be to have access to colleagues with experience in this area, and be able to talk through the issues relating to practice and complaints, and assist you in resolving issues at a low level – so the little stuff doesn’t become the big stuff. Importantly and reassuringly, the advisory team that are available to you are all dentally trained, so they understand the issues you are facing in practice and what this means.
What else can your indemnity assist with?
As part of that support in safe practice, Dental Protection provides risk management through professional education.
We provide large amounts of free CPD to members through our online education resource PRISM – this has about 60 hours of free CPD and is constantly updated. This is obviously valuable for registration requirements, as well as in the event of conditions placed by the board, which can often require necessary education in soft skills such as record keeping, consent or communication.
This education also exit tends to our webinar series, lecture series, workshops and a number of print publications such as Riskwise and Teamwise. We also have the Dental Protection podcast series, including RiskBites, CaseMatters and RiskMatters, assisting practitioners in the provision of safe dental care.
Part of the focus of providing safe care is also our focus on self-care. This area has come to the forefront recently with practitioners battling through difficult times, and the impact this can have on us personally and professionally. We have developed a wellbeing hub on our website, which supports members through free access to counselling and a raft of resources, podcasts and webinars, as well as our wellbeing app eCare from ICAS.
Burnout is a real issue within the dental industry and can affect not only our personal relationships, but also those with our colleagues and staff, and our ability to respond in times of stress such as patient complaints.
So overall, professional indemnity insurance arrangements are in place initially as a requirement of our registration; to assist you, the healthcare provider and also patients in times where things may have not gone to plan and a patient may have been harmed. Or in matters of your defence.
But in reality, it can encompass so much more. By providing that contact and support, to assist you in times of stress and confusion, and responding to patient complaints, it can help resolve these matters at an early stage. And it goes those extra steps further with the provision of risk management advice and education, and self-care.