By Clare Lawrence, Dentolegal Consultant at Dental Protection
As I write this, the usual day is a little different to how it used to be.
Since March 2020 we have been working from home and, in some ways, this has its benefits. The advantage of living through this pandemic rather than the last (the Spanish flu of 1918) is technology, and Dental Protection, like many other businesses, has transitioned fairly smoothly to remote working.
The impact of COVID-19, however, has been huge for our practising colleagues working in primary and secondary care that we advise, assist and support. This in turn has affected how we work, and the priority for us is to ensure we are up to date and alert to the fast-evolving shape and face of dentistry.
Typically, my day starts around 8am and involves the following activities:
Responding to emails from members
I believe a tidy inbox allows for a tidy mind and so I highlight or attend to urgent emails first, before prioritising the work and activities that I need to complete for the day. There will often be several meetings booked and so time management is an important part of handling and juggling my day.
Often, a member has contacted Dental Protection overnight. I am mindful that the members we assist may start their day early in practice and occasionally they will need advice prior to an appointment later that day.
Typical queries on the dentolegal advice line
Most days, I am available to members over the phone, where they can raise any current or potential dentolegal issues and request advice on how to deal with them. The nature of the calls received can vary significantly, but some common dentolegal questions are:
- The police have requested access to a patient’s dental records – am I allowed to share them?
- The parents of a child patient are divorced and have different wishes regarding treatment – who has decision-making responsibility in this scenario?
- I have concerns about a colleague’s behaviour – how and where should I raise these?
- I am seeing a patient later who has previously complained about an aspect of their care – how should I deal with this?
- I have received a complaint – how should I respond and what can I do to prevent it from escalating into a legal case?
I always recommend that our members call our advice line to discuss something that may be on their mind. It can be reassuring to speak to someone who understands the challenges you are facing, and bouncing it off a DLC can help a person see clarity on the issue.
The real benefit is that we may be able to help prevent the problem from escalating.
I always enjoy this aspect of the day as it often brings about a challenging query, and I get to speak to fellow dentists and help ease the pressure of everyday clinical practice for them. Often the query can be resolved immediately, but occasionally I would need to investigate further and so will invite the member to await a more formal and written response.
Supporting members through investigations
Several of the members I’m supporting will have a matter being considered and investigated by our regulator or have a case that is escalating, with other regulatory bodies getting involved. Most days, my colleagues and I will have a catch up or team discussion about active cases, especially those that are challenging and require careful or strategic planning. We will discuss outcomes from similar cases and decide how we can best support the member through the process.
A dentist may be facing an allegation of poor patient communication and we will discuss how this could be mitigated through personal development. This sometimes needs to be more carefully handled with a dentist who may have ceased practising for a while or is coming to the end of their career, as they may have become disengaged or dissociated from the process.
As DLCs we are pleased to offer guidance and support to our members on this important aspect of their personal learning, and we can help them plan targeted remediation using our in-house team of experienced dentists.
Carrying out clinical reviews on cases
I offer clinical input and advice on cases, providing opinion on whether there has been a breach of duty in the care provided and if this has resulted in harm to the patient. Complaints that have escalated to the GDC are enormously stressful and so a large part of my day is offering ongoing reassurance or support to our members who are the subject of fitness to practise investigations.
Training young dentists
I am involved in training days for our new dental graduates and I write articles and case studies to demonstrate learning or changes, in the hope this will reduce their stress and risks in practice.
At the time of writing, this is fast-changing, and no two days are the same.
This is one of the reasons why I find my role as a DLC so rewarding, along with the satisfaction and sense of purpose I feel from supporting my colleagues in the dental profession.