How To Respond To A Patient Complaint Against A Dentist
By Matthew Wilton
Is the information in this article relevant to dentists outside Ontario?
Our firm has acted for dentists outside of Ontario in responding to patient complaints to a regulator. The methodology is essentially the same for every dental regulator in Canada. The Complaints Committee for the relevant province is charged with the responsibility for making decisions with respect to complaints from members of the public. In each province or territory, the Complaints Committee will consider the appropriate standards of practice applicable in the circumstances, and make a decision based on those standards of practice. It is my opinion that the contents of this article will be relevant, and of assistance, to all dentists across Canada in responding to complaints. The methodology is the same, and the basic approach should be the same.
I am setting out below a list of the types of patient complaints I have assisted dentists on. This should demonstrate for all dentists across Canada that the types of complaints we act on are similar to the complaints that all Canadian dentists must deal with:
These are just a sample of some of the hundreds of complaints I have assisted dentists with. I have developed a reasonable understanding of the standards of practice in these various areas, that can be of assistance in assisting any dentists in Canada in responding to a complaint.
Why is it important to make an effective response?
Dentists will be familiar with unfortunate colleagues who have had their names published to the entire profession because of professional misconduct. The vast majority of such cases begin with a simple letter or email from a patient complaining about some aspect of their dental care. It used to be a favourite cliché of lawyers acting for dentists, that for the price of stamp a patient could complain about their dentist. Society has evolved, and a large number of patient complaints are now made by email. The patient doesn’t even need to invest in a stamp! Patients can complain more quickly, and it is often the case that when the patient comes back from a dental appointment and is angry and in pain, that patient can fire off an email complaint instantly. There is now less time for “cooling off” or sober second thoughts. This, in conjunction with increased patient expectations, have led to complaints against dentists increasing.
Another consequence of the information age in which we live, is that negative information gets disseminated widely and quickly. An adverse outcome, even at a Complaints Committee level, can be publicized online by a disgruntled patient on numerous web sites. Patients are also going online, in droves, to post reviews on websites such as “RateMDs” or “Rate a Dentist”.
In Ontario, the RCDS has amended its by-laws effective October 1, 2015 to expand the information available to the public on that College’s Public Register. The net result of this transparency initiative is that dentists in Ontario who are ordered by the Investigations Complaints and Reports Committee (the ICRC) to take specified continuing education courses as a result of a practice issue raised by a complaint, will have that disposition posted on the Public Register of the RCDS. In addition, dentists who receive oral cautions from the ICRC in any decisions released after October 1, 2015 will have that information posted on the Public Register. On our firm’s website you will find our article dealing with the RCDS transparency initiative, which explains in full the nature of these changes.