The Dental Patient: Friend or Foe?

Keith P. Felty, JD
Print PDF

Q: Even with the very best dental care, there will be cases in which an undesirable outcome occurs. No one relishes the idea of discussing failed treatment with a patient. Telling anyone that something has gone wrong often creates as much or more anxiety for the dentist as it does for the patient. Given these feelings, how does a dentist address this situation?

A: Sincere and concise communication with the patient seems like an obvious approach to the issue at hand. However, through my years of practice, far too many cases have arisen where this communication was absent. Dozens of patients-turned-litigants have testified in cases that they never would have sued the dentist and the practice if the dentist had discussed the situation and apologized for the results.

Some years ago, there was a book that pondered the idea that all we needed to know, we learned in kindergarten. I have found that the elementary gesture of an apology may go a long way in preventing a lawsuit from ever being pursued.

More importantly, I have found that it goes much further in preventing an adverse jury verdict. Juries are made up of people who are also dental patients. They are people who simply want to be treated with compassion and respect. There is no better method of demonstrating these qualities than with the honest communication after something goes wrong.