In busy clinical practice, it’s easy for record-keeping to be viewed as an administrative burden, and drop down the priority list. Dental Protection delivered a webinar for dentists across South Africa, which highlighted the benefits of making and retaining good treatment records.
Some areas of record-keeping continue to present difficulties for dentists. Many of us are aware that our records could be improved, a point brought sharply into focus when we are asked to explain our assessment and management of a patient a long time after the examination and treatment took place.
This, in turn, poses a challenge for Dental Protection when we are responding to complaints or claims against dentists. The quality of record-keeping is often the difference between a positive or negative outcome in a case, as demonstrated in this scenario:
A recently qualified dentist decided to remove a maxillary first molar under local anaesthetic and, having explained the procedure to the patient, obtained her consent to proceed with the extraction. The case turned out to be more difficult than had been anticipated, even having the benefit of a good preoperative radiograph.
Unfortunately the dentist displaced the mesio-buccal root into the maxillary antrum after the tooth had been sectioned, creating an oro-antral communication. As soon as the dentist realised what had happened, he explained the situation to the patient and, while she was still in the chair, obtained advice from a maxillofacial surgeon by telephone.
The surgeon advised a primary closure for the socket and the prescription of an appropriate antibiotic, along with the usual local pain management. All these discussions were recorded in the notes.
The dentist lacked experience to complete the surgical closure of the socket and asked a senior dentist in the practice to assist. The patient was then discharged with the appropriate prescriptions and instructions. A referral letter including the radiograph was immediately written and sent to the maxillofacial surgeon.
Complaint after follow-up
The patient was followed up, in due course by the specialist and after several weeks of continued symptoms, she eventually recovered. The dentist was shocked to receive a complaint from the patient, alleging that she would not have embarked on the treatment if she had been warned that this complication might have occurred.
She also complained that the young dentist should have recognised the complex nature of the extraction and recommended that a more experienced colleague attempt removal of the tooth. It was her case that the young dentist should be held responsible for her pain, suffering and loss of earnings while away from work.
Dental Protection drafted letters for the dentist to send in response to this complaint and ultimately the patient accepted that he had acted properly and promptly following this rare and unpredictable complication during a routine procedure.
Assisting the clinician in this case was made easy because his record keeping was excellent and he was given support by the maxillofacial surgeon as soon as he requested it. A prompt, accurate and factual response helped to resolve this complaint satisfactorily without lawyers becoming involved.
The case demonstrates the value of keeping good notes and of retaining copies of all correspondence in the file. The more information that is stored in the records, the easier it is to defend a clinician against an allegation of negligence arising out of a referral.
Record your way out of trouble
Dental Protection’s webinar, The Journey to Better Records, discusses:
• understanding the key legal and professional obligations for completion of treatment records
• recognising the key inputs for an acceptable record
• building sufficient knowledge to manage the security of treatment records.
For those who were unable to join the webinar live on 13 November 2018, a recording is available on our online learning platform, Prism.
Other ways to learn
Free as a benefit of your membership, you can access Prism - our online learning platform - on a range of devices and complete modules at your convenience. Take advantage of flexible, interactive learning across a range of professional development modules and workshops – including record-keeping.
The Dental Protection website also has a comprehensive overview on the rules and regulations surrounding record-keeping.
And, for specific advice on record-keeping, dentolegal expert advice is available by contacting Dental Protection on +27 11 484 5288 or online.