Legal suits are an ever-present concern for healthcare professionals. Adhering to the American Dental Associationâ€™s Veracity Code is the first line of defense against unwanted legal repercussions and the public scrutiny that can result.
Ensuring patients are being treated with the utmost ethical standards of dental care will help providers avoid legal troubles and maintain a meaningful connection with their patients and communities.
On May 23, 208, a lawsuit was filed against a dental practice owner in Hudson, WI on behalf of two defendants who claim their children suffered at the hands of their pediatric dentist. Plaintiff allegations range from unnecessary tooth extractions to taking an extensive number of dental x-rays — treatments for which the dentist profited by collecting on insurance claims.
Similar cases are becoming more and more common in the dental community. While the verdict in this case is yet to be determined, the reputation of the practice is irrefutably compromised by the public allegations. It is clear that better adherence to the “American Dental Association Principles of Ethics and Code of Conduct: Section 5 — Principle: Veracity” might have helped avoid a lawsuit. Ensuring patients are being treated with the utmost ethical standards of dental care will help providers avoid legal troubles and maintain a meaningful connection with their patients and communities.
Section 5.A.1 of the ADA code subtitled “Dental Amalgams and Other Restorative Materials”, states that no dentist may replace older restorative materials on the pretense of toxicity, or danger to the patient’s health, except for reasons associated with allergic reactions. Previously, it was common practice for dentists to encourage patients to replace their “silver” fillings because of the health concerns surrounding mercury seepage and heavy metal exposure. However, replacement of any existing dental restorations under the cover of safety is not acceptable when there are no real threats to the patient’s health.
In an age where consultant groups are commonly an integral part of the dental team, “selling” dentistry has become a valuable skill for the entire staff. Often, patients are presented with treatment plans involving costly restorative treatment to replace outdated, broken-down or undermined existing restorations. Although dental professionals can recommend a preferred treatment course, the differences between elective and necessary treatments must be well-defined. Frightening a patient with threats of broken teeth or tempting them to opt for the higher cost treatment can often go unnoticed because patients are generally misinformed about the reality of the condition. Exploiting individual ignorance can lead to severe consequences such as a tarnished reputation, and even legal repercussions.
Practitioners can ensure their ethicality by giving patients an array of treatment options. Limiting patients to two or three avenues shows that the dentist is concerned about their patient’s health and respects the patient’s autonomy. Keeping the “do nothing” option on the table, while advising against it in cases where it could lead to further complications, can limit practitioner liability since the pressure to accept expensive or extensive treatment is relieved.
Billing for an insurance code that fetches a larger payment than the service rendered, or upcoding, is a difficult offense to prove, but it is a common concern in the dental and medical communities alike. Common examples of upcoding in dentistry include billing for periodontal maintenance appointments on patients who receive an adult prophylaxis or substituting a surgical extraction code for a simple tooth extraction. In both instances, the patient is unaware of the technical difference between the procedures and the dental practice stands to make more money. It is up to the provider to comply with the ADA’s insurance code descriptions to remain ethical.
Legal concerns of the modern day make it more important than ever for dentists and dental auxiliaries to give patients all the facts, so they can make an informed decision. And while patients’ knowledge of dental procedures limits their ability to detect dishonesty and fraud, it is up to each individual dental provider to protect their reputations through veracity.
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