The Top 3 Reasons A Dissatisfied Patient Becomes a Litigious Patient

It’s what every dentist dreads: being served with a board complaint or a lawsuit. In this article, we’ll go through common reasons a patient might sue or initiate a complaint, as well as what actions can avoid the situation before it even starts.

Impression of Overtreatment
One of the most common instances where a patient will initiate a complaint without contacting you for a resolution first is if they feel they have been over-treated. Perhaps they talked to a friend, or the professional that referred them to you gave them the expectation that they would require less treatment. In cases like this, the patient feels both angry and embarrassed that they were "taken advantage of," by someone they trusted, even if the treatment was completely necessary.

Your best defense: an intraoral camera. Nothing helps walk a patient through what is necessary like an enormous picture of their problem. What may look "not that bad" in a patient’s mirror at home is now impossible to ignore, and the before-and-after images will leave patients assured that their treatment was well worth it.

Lingering Pain/Discomfort
Pain is one of the main reasons patients go to the dentist, and if the pain persists despite treatment, they can come to the conclusion that either the treatment was ineffective or that treatment was not actually performed. Additionally, treating a long-standing issue can alter the occlusion a patient has become accustomed to, leading them to believe an error has made when in reality they are simply not used to the correction. Unlike the previous group of patients, these patients will usually return to you before becoming irritated.

Your best defense: first, make no promises. During treatment planning you can explain to the patient the various potential sources of their dental pain, and indicate that you’re going to treat the most likely source. Second, make sure the patient is aware that some pain, swelling and numbness may persist for a few days after the procedure, and if it lasts for more than a week or increased in intensity, they should come back in. This helps moderate the patient’s expectations and prepares them for a recovery period, and also leaves your door open for follow-up care.

Feel Improperly Informed
By now you’ve probably noticed a pattern in this article – patients are most likely to call a lawyer or the board when they feel mislead, kept in the dark, or that the clinician didn’t really listen to them. Whether they felt rushed to sign the consent form, or nodded yes at a question they didn’t really understand, or misheard what tooth was receiving what treatment, patients feel defensive and scared if things don’t turn out as they expect.
Your best defense: communication! If you detect even the slightest hesitation from the patient, take a moment to probe and make sure that they are 100 percent on board with treatment. Don’t ask them "Do you understand?" Instead, ask them "What questions do you have for me?" This will nudge patients into opening up with any concerns they have about the process, and help them to anticipate what their care will look like.

The information contained in this, or any case study post in Incisor should never be considered a proper replacement for necessary training and/or education regarding adult oral conscious sedation. Regulations regarding sedation vary by state. This is an educational and informational piece. DOCS Education accepts no liability whatsoever for any damages resulting from any direct or indirect recipient's use of or failure to use any of the information contained herein. DOCS Education would be happy to answer any questions or concerns mailed to us at 106 Lenora Street, Seattle, WA 98121. Please print a copy of this posting and include it with your question or request.