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Doing the right thing

18 November 2019

The G family had attended Dr P’s practice over many years. The four children of Mr and Mrs G had been regularly brought in to see their dentist and they continued to attend the practice as adults. The whole family enjoyed a good relationship with Dr P.

Dr P provided treatment for Mr G that included a root canal treatment for his non-vital 21, which Mr G had finally agreed to have done after having put it off for some time. On completion of the RCT, Dr P recommended restoration of the tooth with a post-retained crown and suggested that the heavily restored and discoloured 11 be crowned at the same time. Despite some reservations about the cost, Mr G agreed to this.

Eight months later, Dr P received a letter from an insurance company. It contained various forms related to Mr G that mentioned “his accident”. On closer reading, Dr P noted that he was being asked to confirm the treatment that he had provided for Mr G, including the nature, extent and reason for it. The treatment details were pre-printed within the document, with a signed permission form confirming Mr G’s consent for Dr P to disclose treatment details.

Dr P was puzzled, as the information did not coincide with his own records. One glaring inaccuracy was the description of two crowns and two root treatments being carried out as a result of trauma. As the information was so inaccurate, Dr P telephoned the insurance company and it was confirmed to him that the information on the form had been provided by Mr G. Dr P did not say anything to contradict this at that point, but was quite concerned as to what he should do and sought advice from Dental Protection.

The content of the letter from the insurance company seemed to indicate that Mr G had submitted an insurance claim against a company seeking redress for some accident. Dr P did not wish to say anything that was untrue in relation to the claim put forward by his patient but, at the same time, he was very uncomfortable about the potential implications for Mr G and his relationship in correcting the inaccuracy.

Following advice from Dental Protection, Dr P met Mr G at the practice to help clarify the situation. Mr G explained that he had fallen over in the premises of a major store. Although he had not broken anything, he did have some bruising and had submitted a claim to cover the costs of treatment he had required, including painkillers and physiotherapy. He had thought of including his dental care as a way of defraying the costs of his recent treatment and believed that as Dr P was essentially a family friend, he would be able to back him up. Dr P thanked Mr G for helping him to understand the situation more clearly and, after the meeting, immediately sought further advice from Dental Protection.

Although it would be much more convenient for Dr P simply to accommodate his patient, it was clear that would be deliberately misleading and would make him a knowing party to a fraudulent claim. Aside from this action opening the possibility of criminal charges, there is an ethical obligation on registrants to be honest and respect the law. 

Following advice from Dental Protection, Dr P wrote to Mr G to explain that he was sorry but, due to being bound by an ethical code of professional conduct, he was not in a position to support his claim by confirming misleading information. To protect the best interests of his patient, Dr P also suggested that Mr G let the matter of his “dental injuries” drop.

Dr P heard nothing further from Mr G about this. The family, however, continued to attend the practice.

Learning points

  • Dentists can sometimes face situations where it might be easier and more convenient to simply go along with an action or accommodate a request. It is important to remember however that in addition to obeying the law, all registrants are bound by an ethical code and have a duty to uphold the reputation of the profession.
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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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