An Alternative to Suing Your Dentist: Peer Review
Have you ever had a toothache or other major inconvenience that was caused by your dentist? Sometimes dentists do make serious mistakes. When they do, they should be open and honest with their patients. However, not all dentists do tell their patients when they mess up.
While most dentists are pretty reasonable if you take the time to talk to them about it, some are not. Certain dentists not only think that they are perfect and never make mistakes, but they also think that they are always right.
It is those kinds of dentists that many people may feel the urge to take legal action so that they can make the dentist pay for the wrong that was committed.
Legal Action Can Be Complicated
Many times, however, legal action is too time-consuming and money-consuming to warrant taking any legal action. For example, on the Free Advice forums, a woman told the story of how a dentist may have drilled too close to the pulp tissue in her daughter's tooth. Her daughter subsequently needed a root canal treatment and a crown.
Unfortunately, she doesn't share all of the details of her story, but you have to wonder whether or not she tried to get the dentist to give her a free root canal treatment with a crown.
Before attempting to bring legal action against a dentist, it is important to ask yourself if the dentist was truly careless and negligent or if the dentist simply didn't fulfill your expectations.
If you believe that the dentist truly was negligent, then you have two options:
- You can bring legal action toward the dentist (arbitration, lawsuits, etc.)
- You can go through peer review.
It would be nearly pointless to sue the dentist over a procedure that would only cost $1500 as the legal fees could end up being more than that. This is where peer review can come in handy.
What is Peer Review?
Jerry Taintor, in his book The Complete Guide to Better Dental Care, defines dental peer review as follows:
A review of a case by a special committee of volunteer dentists from the local dental society, usually at a patient's request. The purpose of the review is to resolve disputes between a dentist and a patient regarding the quality and/or appropriateness of the dental care provided.
Peer review is a simple process that allows patients a quick, simple, free way to discover whether or not negligence occurred by having experienced volunteer dentists review their case. The dentists that serve on the peer review board will examine the patient's file that the dentist has on record as well as any x-rays. They may even wish to examine the patient to get a better idea of what exactly what happened during the course of dental treatment.
How to Get Started with Peer Review
If you are interested in peer review, you will need to get in contact with your local dental society. Every U.S. state and territory has a dental society. You can find a list of the dental societies as well as their websites and contact information at this page of dental societies on the American Dental Association's website.
What Dentists Have to Say About the Peer Review Process
A North Carolina prosthodontist (a specialist in crowns, bridges, dentures, and other types of prosthetic teeth) had the following to say about the peer review process:
As a peer reviewer, I have seen colleagues who have truly committed malpractice however they are unwilling to admit their errors to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict with their patient. They would rather force the patient into litigation on the chance that the patient would not have the financial means to sue them. What ever happened to 'do no harm' and keeping the best interest of the patient in site?
Interestingly enough, it seems that most of the dental professionals that are unhappy with the peer review process are general dentists that may not be too experienced. A general dentist that practices in Nevada even gave the following unprofessional and immature statement about the dental professionals that voluntarily serve on peer review boards:
The weenies that are anal enough to be on most peer review committees are so frightened to confront the combative patient that they typically ALWAYS side with the patient no matter how ridiculous the situation.
Of course peer review does have its disadvantages. There may be potential conflicts of interest if the patient or dentist is a friend of one of the dentists serving on the peer review board. However, as one endodontist stated, peer review is far better than getting involved in our complex judicial system.
Transparency is the Best Policy
I have read about many dental malpractice lawsuits and wrongdoings. I think that this has been very beneficial to me as a dental student and a future dentist.
In two years, when I become a dentist, I will strive to fully explain each procedure to my patients as well as the risks and benefits associated with each treatment option. If I make a mistake, I will make it right. I believe that having satisfied patients contributes to the success of a dentist more than anything else.
I believe that if health professionals were to communicate better with their patients and develop a relationship of trust and understanding, that we would see a dramatic decline in the number of health-related lawsuits.
What Do You Think?
Do you wish your dentist was more up-front about a certain procedure? Have you been involved in peer review or a lawsuit?
Please leave any comments you may have below!
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