Complaints to the regulator are increasing across Australia at around 13% per year and dental practitioners receive a disproportionate amount of these complaints. Dr Annalene Weston, dentolegal consultant at Dental Protection, explores what happens when you receive a regulatory complaint
Receiving a complaint is a heartsink moment. Receiving a complaint from the regulator is so much more, as commonly practitioners fear for what this will mean for them, their reputation and their registration. Please rest assured that our role is to support you through this difficult time, and to guide you through the process to ensure the best possible outcome.
After contacting Dental Protection to advise us of this complaint, you will need to start collating your records as we will need to view these, and they will need to be provided to the regulator. We ask that you respond to any questions or concerns raised in the regulatory letter or the letter of complaint that is attached to it, and provide us with this. We take all this information and assist you in drafting a submission.
The matter will be assessed, regardless of whether you provide a response, so it is an opportunity to put your best foot forwards and provide the regulator with the requested information. Failing to do so can lead to a far worse outcome for you. While it is natural to want to reach out and discuss the matter with the patent, we would encourage you to seek our advice before doing so, as some regulatory matters prohibit this, while others encourage it. Let us guide you on what is appropriate in your unique situation.
Who are the assessors?
The assessing regulator considers the provided documentation. If the assessing body is AHPRA, the assessment panel is made up of clinicians and a lay person; if it is a Complaints Commission it is usually assessed by administrators. The administrators in the Complaints Commission generally make the decision to refer to the Dental Board if they believe clinical standards need to be considered. The passing of the matter between bodies can slow the process down and, while they try to work to a reasonable timeframe, some matters can be held up and it can be some weeks before you hear back from them. This is a very trying time for the practitioner, but it is usually a result of their workload, not a reflection on you or your matter.
If after assessment the Dental Board or Dental Council determines that they need further information, you will be notified that an investigator has been appointed to look further into the matter. The investigator will often ask you to respond to some specific questions about what treatment you provided and why, and once those responses are received the Board generally appoints an independent clinician outside the Dental Board itself to provide an assessment of the treatment. Once that expert report is received and the assessment panel assesses the matter, and comes to its proposed determination, they will write back to you and notify you of this. Again, as soon as that is received, you must contact Dental Protection and we will assist you with any response required.
Most complaints are resolved at a low level and without any impact on the practitioners’ registration. While the process is confidential in nature, the person who lodged the complaint must be informed of the outcome and, if conditions are placed on your registration, often your employer must also be notified. The only time others will know if is if conditions are placed on your registration, as these are visible on the public register. Once you have completed the conditions, they are removed.
Please rest assured of our continued support through a trying time such as this. Remember you are not alone, and we are here to help.
Notify Dental Protection to seek our advice
Provide all requested documentation in a timely fashion
Consider whether, on reflection, you may have approached the matter differently, as the regulator is very interested in your insight
Ignore the matter thinking it will go away – it won’t
Be disrespectful or dismissive of the patient’s concerns
You can also listen to our podcast series for further guidance and advice.