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The wrong place at the right time

15 July 2014
Complaints can arise in unusual circumstances – keeping cool and calm and responding respectfully are always better choices than losing your temper...

A dentist contacted Dental Protection, having received a complaint from a patient who had been seen by the local emergency on-call dentist. The patient had apparently called out the dentist fairly late on a Saturday evening and arrangements were made over the telephone to meet.

The dentist arrived in good time and had arranged for one of his staff to accompany him, fearing that he may well be dealing with quite a difficult situation. Unfortunately the appointed time for the patient to arrive came and went and three-quarters of an hour later the dentist felt there was little point in continuing to wait and went home.

No sooner had the dentist arrived home when the telephone rang again with an extremely irate patient who claimed to have been waiting outside the surgery since the appointed time.

Believing there was little point in continuing to argue, the dentist again agreed to see the patient but this time took his mobile phone number just in case any difficulties were encountered.

The dentist duly turned up at the surgery only to find that there was still no patient. He opened the surgery and waited for 20 minutes, but to no avail. He then telephoned the patient on his mobile phone and complained bitterly that he was outside the surgery and still the patient had not arrived. Once again, a heated discussion took place, culminating in the dentist losing his temper with a series of unprintable expletives.

Escalating complaint

The patient later made a complaint via the local complaints authority, which agreed to investigate the complaint. The dentist believed he was firmly in the right and replied by accusing the patient of wasting his time, both on the night in question and again now in replying to a vindictive complaint. For obvious reasons, far from settling the matter, it only served to inflame the situation.

Following a telephone call to Dental Protection and a general discussion with one of our advisers, it was agreed that a more conciliatory reply would be sent to the patient.

Three weeks later, a further letter was received from the patient via the Local Health Committee indicating that he intended to bypass the committee and take the matter directly to the dentist’s national regulatory body. It was at this point that the representative of the Health Committee realised that the address at which the patient had attended for treatment was not the current practice address.

Both parties right

It became obvious that in fact both parties could well have been telling the truth about the events of that evening and had simply turned up at two totally different sites. The dentist realised that the address visited by the patient was the address of his old surgery where he had worked some two years previously.

Following discussions with both parties, the Local Health Committee representative was able to explain the difficulty that had arisen. A suitably worded letter was subsequently sent by the dentist to the patient apologising for the problems that seemed to have arisen and asking for the whole matter to be put down to experience. Happily the patient saw the funny side of it and was quite happy to let matters rest.

Learning point:
Apologies have their greatest impact if they are offered immediately and can often smooth the way to a rapid resolution of a complaint.
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits dental members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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