#16 – Considers Malpractice Insurance

In the past, hygienists never carried malpractice insurance. Now with lawsuits multiplying and periodontal disease a major target, hygienists are being sued along with dentists.

Usually, the dentist’s malpractice (dentists usually carry $1,000,000) covers the staff also. However, you never know what a court might do. You might be sued on two issues:
1. Standard of care
2. Documentation

Detailed records will probably protect you but when you are judged by a jury anything can happen. Be sure you:
1. Update the medical history, take a blood pressure reading and initial this update.
2. Always check that prophylactic antibiotics were taken. Never ever treat when the client forgot to take a prescription.
3. Record anything unusual in the oral cavity – white, red patches, bumps, etc. Tell your doctor.
4. Chart pocket depths, bleeding points, swollen gums, etc. Record what you said to the client and what they plan to do.
5. Soft Tissue Management – The yellow brochure must be signed by everyone.
6. Record what you did. The pink sheet and yellow treatment sheet will seem like a lot of paperwork, but it could very likely make the difference between you being involved in a malpractice suit or not.
7. Failure to diagnose oral cancer
8. Injury to client
9. Divulge private client information.

Remember, if it’s not written in the record, the jury will be instructed to presume it wasn’t done.

You probably don’t need your own malpractice insurance, particularly if you practice effectively, keep your client informed, and keep good records. However, the safest course would be to purchase malpractice insurance.

As in anything you want to buy, you have choices between several different suppliers. Here are the questions you’ll want answered:
1. Is the carrier financially healthy? What is their rating by A.M. Best Co? or the Ohio insurance commission?
2. Is the coverage broad enough to cover everything you do professionally?
3. What are the exclusions?
4. Coverage limits
a. Maximum per each claim ($1,000,000 is best)
b. Total limit (aggregate for all claims reported in a single year of coverage ($3,000,000 is best)
c. Any deductible before coverage begins?
5. Can a claim be settled without my consent?
6. Is the company protected by the state guarantee fund? This fund set up to cover claims if a company defaults.
7. How long have they been writing dental malpractice insurance?
8. Is it “occurrence” or “claims” made coverage? Occurrence covers you forever for any occurrence while policy is in effect, even if the claim is filed years later. Claims made only covers you during the contract year. You must buy a separate policy (tail) to cover this. It’s very expensive.

You can check with the ADHA, the ODHA or several local companies – Cinci, Medical Protective, Chubb Group, Aetna and Travelers.