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A case of mistaken identity

14 July 2014
As this cautionary case illustrates, keeping good records is the key to fending off bogus allegations...

A practitioner was surprised to receive a letter from a firm of lawyers, written on behalf of a patient who was considering a claim in negligence regarding treatment provided at the practice several years earlier; all the more so because the lawyers did not provide any details of the treatment involved.

The practitioner did not recognise the patient’s name, nor did two members of staff who had been working at the practice at the relevant time. A preliminary search through the archived records produced no record card for any patient by that name, so the lawyers were asked to confirm the patient’s name (in case it had since changed) together with the year of attendance, and also to provide any evidence of attendance at the practice (for example, an appointment card or receipt). The patient confirmed her name and the year of attendance, but had not retained any documentation of the kind requested.

Second search

There followed a second exhaustive search through archived boxes of old records – which took some time – and the lawyers were told that the practitioner believed the patient was mistaken and had probably attended a different practice.

The patient remained adamant and her solicitors threatened to issue legal proceedings and to report the dentist to his registration body for withholding evidence. At this stage the dentist sought advice from Dental Protection.

Dental Protection contacted the patient’s lawyers, asking them to confirm the nature of the allegations. It transpired that the treatment in question was a post crown, where the angulation of the post had perforated the lateral surface of the root.

The practitioner was asked whether he retained old laboratory invoices or appointment books and he confirmed that he did; in fact, it was something of a joke with his family and friends that he never threw anything away at all!

Exceptional records

It turned out that he had retained exceptionally good records, and after a little effort it was possible to demonstrate to the lawyers that no patient by that name had attended the practice in the year in question, nor in the two years either side of it.

No such name appeared in any appointment book or in the records of payments received over that period, nor on any of the laboratory statements. It was therefore highly improbable that the patient had attended on at least two occasions and had received a post crown.

Confronted with this detailed documentation, and in the absence of any contradictory evidence from the patient, the patient’s lawyers advised their client not to proceed.

Learning point:
When thinking about dental records, think about the components of the record, not just the record card.
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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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