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Effective emergency arrangements can keep complaints at bay

15 July 2014
A patient in pain can create headaches for the practice too. Making sure you attend to a patient's needs, and can prove you did so, are paramount...

A patient had a large filling on a molar tooth. He rang the practice three hours after returning home to say that the tooth was starting to hurt. The receptionist reassured him and advised him to take analgesics, before logging the telephone conversation in the patient's notes. The following morning he telephoned again, saying the pain was getting worse. An appointment was offered later that morning, but when the patient was examined, there was no indication of anything more than the normal post-operative sensitivity from a large filling.

The next day, the patient was waiting in the practice car park as the practice was opened, having been unable to sleep all night with the pain he had been experiencing. The patient was most displeased to be told by the receptionist that the dentist was away for the day on a postgraduate course. He demanded that some attempt should be made to reach the dentist and recall him to the practice, or alternative arrangements made for another dentist to see him locally. The receptionist suggested that, if all else failed, she might be able to arrange for his local doctor to see him, but in the meantime she undertook to try to make contact with the dentist.

As it happened, the dentist telephoned during the lunch interval and offered to see the patient that evening. He did this at 10pm, opening the surgery specially in order to accommodate the patient. As he expected from what his receptionist had told him, it was necessary to remove the pulp of the tooth and begin endodontic treatment. The patient’s pain disappeared immediately.

Refusal to pay

Some weeks later the patient refused to pay for the endodontic treatment on the grounds that he thought he should be compensated for his three days of pain, made worse by the dentist’s unavailability and the lack of emergency arrangements. The patient’s complaint later became the subject of a formal hearing before an investigating committee.

Learning point:
The committee completely exonerated the dentist. He had provided emergency treatment very promptly and appropriately on two occasions, and on the third occasion he had made himself available in a situation where many other dentists might not have done. The dentist elected not to pursue the patient for the unpaid root canal treatment fee, offering this as a goodwill gesture, but he commented that as a result he had learned a valuable lesson from the experience, about the importance of having effective emergency arrangements and of good record keeping by himself and his staff
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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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