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Communication and change of dentist

10 May 2019
A patient received a letter from his dental practice explaining that his care would need to be transferred to a new dentist. Later, the practice owner received a complaint from this patient. No concerns had been raised about the clinical care, so the letter came as something of a surprise. However, the letter did raise a concern about the lack of information provided to the patient over the changeover. He later said that he had felt pressured into choosing a new dentist at short notice and this had motivated the complaint.

In his letter the patient confirmed he had no previous knowledge that a change of dentist would be necessary and there was no mention of the name of the new treating practitioner. The letter was generic and had been sent to all the patients previously seen by the associate; however, it did not provide any details, other than a suggestion to call the practice to arrange an examination appointment.

The practice owner requested assistance from Dental Protection as to how he might manage the complaint and a way forward was suggested. Assistance was provided drafting a letter which was sent by the member to the patient apologising for his dissatisfaction, with an explanation that the practice felt it was in the best interest of the patient to discuss the change in staff when they attended for their routine check-up. It was explained that whilst most patients had been informed that their dentist was leaving, this was not known at the time of the last check-up with this particular patient.

The new dentist was introduced to the patient and was able to provide reassurance that his experience would complement the range of the other services available within the practice.

An apology was offered to the patient for the earlier poor communication. The practice advised that the concerns would be discussed at a team meeting where ideas and opportunities would be identified to drive an improvement in the way the practice communicated with its’ staff and patient base.

The patient accepted the letter of apology and subsequently booked an examination appointment with the practice principal.
Learning points
  • It is always useful to consider and identify beforehand where a generic message may be misunderstood and the impact of this on a small minority may be negative.
  • Choice is as much part of dentistry as in any other retail/service industry and it is important to make this clear where choice exists.

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 Protection members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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