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Understanding the effect of late reported claims

Post date: 09/08/2019 | Time to read article: 4 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 13/08/2019

Dr Yvonne Shaw, Head of Underwriting at Dental Protection, explains why when it comes to a defence organisation, you need to be thinking 25 years ahead.

In 2018, 40% of claims costs related to treatment that started 10 or more years before the claim was made 

Predicting the future cost of claims is difficult, but it’s an important part of what we do. We are in the business of understanding and managing clinical negligence risk and after 125 years we understand exactly what it takes to protect your reputation, careers and finances.

Late reported claims

In recent years we’ve seen a damaging trend in UK dental claims. Increasingly we see claims being brought against clinicians for treatment that they provided many years earlier. In fact only 35% of UK dental claims are actually reported within the first two years after the incident date.

Of the 100 largest UK dental claims we received in 2018, 60 of them related to claims where the treatment started ten years or more before the claim was reported. In some cases, the dentists involved may have moved practice, retired or even passed away.

The majority of these late reported claims involve allegations relating to the management of periodontal disease, but can extend to include allegations about management of caries over many years. It’s now not uncommon to see claims that include allegations spanning decades of care, and claims reported to us more than 25 years after the patient’s first attendance at a practice.

Why has this happened?

The challenge we all face is that the increase in periodontal and late reported claims is not necessarily related to changes in the standard of dental care. If anything, we know that education and training in the area of screening, diagnosis and management of periodontal disease and caries has advanced significantly. Coupled with increased understanding of the importance of record keeping, patient care should now be very different to that provided several decades ago.

However there are other factors at play, including increased public awareness of periodontal disease and changes in patients’ expectations; with patients more willing to challenge clinicians about any unexpected outcomes. We have also seen claimant law firms switch to actively targeting periodontal claims and long-term care, as these cases are likely to be more lucrative in terms of profits.

I’ve only recently qualified, so do I need to worry about these claims?

The trend, unfortunately, does not seem to show signs of stopping. Periodontal and long tail cases often involve all clinicians who treat a patient within a practice, up to the point the patient has been made aware of the true extent and nature of their dental problems. It is not uncommon that these claims now involve multiple clinicians, some of whom may have been involved in a patient’s care for only one or two appointments.

Whist allegations relating to the first treating clinician usually relate to the initial assessment and diagnosis, subsequent clinicians usually face similar allegations including not undertaking an adequate assessment and not intervening when oral health was continuing to deteriorate. These allegations are often linked to not taking appropriate radiographs, failing to act on radiograph findings and not providing clear information to patients about treatment needs.

Where multiple clinicians are involved over time, it makes the cases even more involved and protracted as we work with other indemnity organisations to review and assess shared liability.

Am I protected for these claims?

Dental Protection membership is designed to give you peace of mind. We offer occurrence-based membership. This means we collect a subscription each membership year and you can then request assistance for any claim that arises from your professional practice during that year regardless of when it is reported - even if it is years later, you are no longer a member, or you have ceased practising.

With occurrence-based protection, the responsibility of future risk lies with the indemnifier (us). The money we collect today needs to ensure that we are here for you in 10, 15 or 25 years should you be unfortunate to be drawn into a claim.

Occurrence-based protection may not be the cheapest option but members tell us that they value the long-term peace of mind that it offers, because they do not need to make any further financial arrangements to ensure they have protection after they leave membership or cease practice.

So what do I need to do?

Firstly, there are some key things you can do to reduce your risk. We have some useful resources below that highlight the common risks and pitfalls associated with periodontal disease.

Secondly, you need to ask yourself; can I trust my indemnifier to still be here for me in 10, 20, or even 30 years? At Dental Protection we can confidently say we were built to last. Our subscription rates reflect the cost of our long-term commitment to protecting you to the highest standard long into the future, not a short-term requirement to generate profits.

We have seen new entrants come into this market seeking to generate profits and many will underestimate the impact of late reported claims. If they exit the market it can leave practitioners vulnerable to the financial consequences of a claim brought many years later. Failure to have adequate and appropriate indemnity can also leave dental registrants open to a challenge by the regulator.

Our financial strength gives us confidence that we can continue to be there for members in the years ahead, in the same way that we have always been. We have the largest reserves of any defence organisation in the UK.

Continue your learning and earn CPD…

Webinar: Key insights into periodontal claims

17 September

Join Dr Yvonne Shaw, Head of Underwriting Policy, and Andrew Walker, Dentolegal Consultant and Periodontal Specialist, as they share insights into the nature of periodontal claims and what can be done to reduce the risk of a claim. Book your place here.

E-learning module

To learn more about managing the risks of periodontal disease, log in to Prism, our e-learning platform. A 45 minute interactive module is available to all members that will highlight the common risks and pitfalls associated with periodontal disease and suggest ways of managing these areas of risk.

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