I occasionally get calls that begin with: This patient came in and (poor result, upset patient, potential lawsuit, etc.). For some of these doctors, it seems more customary than exceptional for this to take place, but if you stay in Dentistry long enough, you will face an upset patient and potential complaint to the State Board or Civil litigation in the courts. In this last call, I had the doctor ask if he/she should just give them back their money and be done with it. I wish it were that simple. I want to outline a couple of things to consider when faced with this potential calamity.
In my practices, we always warranted any work we did. It was not a guarantee, but a written statement that said that if they were not satisfied, we would redo the work or refund the money, for a certain period of time that was usually about 5 years. Break it, or you don’t like it, then we will stand behind our work. It always worked well and created a marketing opportunity to separate us from the pack of dentists who don’t warranty their work.
An important thing to remember is that “friends” don’t sue “friends”. Just a simple case of super-charging your internal referral systems in such a way as to better understand every patient while coming alongside them and exceeding their expectations to become their trusted friend in Dentistry. Surely you know that when reality exceeds expectations, everyone is happy.
The second thing to remember is that every one of us has malpractice insurance, and not a single one of the insurers want to pay out a judgment if it can be avoided. Take the time and always, always call your malpractice insurer before taking any action with a patient that may or may not create a legal admission of wrongdoing. Giving them a call will not up your insurance. If anything, it might make the rates go down. At least they have a doctor who has the good sense to know that they need sound legal counsel at times of a potential threat.
The third and last thing I will mention is that if you do decide to return the patient’s money in order to salvage a relationship, or at least not have them bad mouth you to everyone they know, be sure they sign a release. Of course, before doing this, check with your attorney and follow their instructions to the letter. I have included a link below to a sample of a release for your review. It is not to be used without advice of your attorney and your malpractice group. I have used this two times in my career. One time, the patient left the practice and nothing else occurred. In the other instance the family stayed with our practice and continued to refer us other clients. I hope this advice adds some level of comfort concerning the steps you should take before you do anything that might put you and your practice in jeopardy.
This is how you Summit.
Michael Abernathy, DDS