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Out of sight, out of mind?

14 July 2014
As this case illustrates, referring a patient doesn’t end your supervision of their progress... 

A general practitioner with a special interest in implant dentistry referred a patient to an oral surgeon for an opinion on the feasibility of providing an implant-retained fixed bridge to replace some missing anterior teeth. The patient was particularly keen on this approach as he was anxious to avoid the need to wear an upper denture.

There was a total breakdown in communication between the oral surgeon and the practitioner; the oral surgeon thought he had replied to the referring dentist, which proved not to be the case.

Meanwhile, the busy practitioner assumed that the patient had had second thoughts when he heard no more from him or the specialist. When the practitioner finally received a letter from the oral surgeon, it was to let him know that the three implant fixtures had integrated well and the patient was now ready for his implant-supported denture.

No longer possible

The position of the fixtures was such that fixed bridgework was no longer a realistic possibility and a very angry patient held both clinicians equally responsible for their failure to liaise adequately (or at all) in the provision of his treatment. He had undergone the provision of three implants in order to avoid wearing a denture and now found himself with a denture as the only realistic treatment option.

The patient’s claim was eventually settled, but only after a substantial payment of damages was made on behalf of the two clinicians involved.

Learning point:
A simple check to monitor the progress of a referral can help eliminate an unintentional misunderstanding or oversight before it becomes more significant.
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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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