© Gary Inglese

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Northbrook, IL 60062
Phone: (847)272-2900
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Managing patient injuries occuring in the office

The importance of communication and compassion in handling patient injuries is paramount.  Showing compassion is not admitting guilt.  It is important to communicate with the patient, make a referral, if necessary, and follow up to see how they are doing.  Often, all the patient wants is for the dentist to care and acknowledge the injury.

Before making representations about paying for or reimbursing a bill, it is a good idea to call the dental professional liability carrier.  They can help the dentist navigate patient demands to alleviate uncomfortable situations.  The carrier may recommend speaking to a claim representative if the incident could develop into more than a simple refund.

A common incident that occurs in the dental office is when the patient swallows an object.  This requires the dentist to provide additional care and follow-up.  Insurance carriers recommend the patient check with their physician to receive direction on how the event should be managed.  Often the dentist is advised to have the patient take a chest film to see where the object is lodged.  Most professional liability insurance provides coverage for medical expenses related to dental treatment.

Allergic reactions often occur in the dental office.  The patient’s health history form is the essential tool in preventing this type of injury.  It is recommended that the dentist review and have the patient update the health history form at every appointment.  Make sure that it is legible and have the patient fill out a new form when there are changes to medications.  Previous health history forms should be kept on file.

An incident report is crucial if the patient is injured.  It can help mitigate liability.  The report should be completed once the event is over.  It should briefly and factually describe the incident.  The reporter should remain objective and avoid judgment about the cause or extent of the injury.  It should include the date, time and location of the incident and names and contact information of witnesses.  Actions taken by the dental office staff should be noted and document any emergency medical treatment delivered, including where and by whom.  If medical treatment was offered and denied by the patient, this should be noted.  Be sure to list devices, such as a walker, cane or crutches that the patient was using at the time of the incident in the instance of a slip and fall.  If possible, photograph the injury to document the appearance and extent on the actual date of the injury.If an injury occurs in your dental office, a calm, caring attitude and clear communication can make a huge difference in the outcome. Combined with the following items, dental offices can prevent an incident from becoming a claim.

Key actions to manage patient injury situations:

  • Stop and assess the situation with care.
  • Call 911 if immediate medical attention is necessary
  • Provide basic first aid if needed.
  • Communicate with the patient and acknowledge the patient’s perspective.
  • Keep treatment for the injury within your scope of practice.
  • Stabilize the patient and reschedule any incomplete treatment.
  • Refer to a physician as needed.
  • Document the injury, including photographs.  Note witnesses and their contact information.
  • Follow up with the patient to check on their recovery.
  • Contact your insurance carrier to file an incident report.

An injured patient in the dental office is a sure way to spoil your day.  There are many ways a patient can be injured in the dental office. They can be injured during treatment or as the result of an incident such as a slip or fall.  Treatment injuries can include lacerations, swallowed objects, burns and allergic reactions.

If an injury to a patient should occur, a few essential steps are necessary to keep the situation manageable.  First and most important, stop and assess the injury, even if it appears insignificant.  While the incident may be deemed minor, communication and follow-up are essential.

No matter how careful the practitioner is, injuries can always happen.  When issues develop, it is often because of the after-incident management.  If the dentist tends to minimize the situation, that can upset the patient.  The dentist must not fail to recognize and acknowledge how the patient is feeling.