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Help! A New Patient Is Complaining About Their Previous Dentist

We talk to many dentists when they call our Claims Advice Hotline. We're sharing some of the interesting questions they ask!

Question: Occasionally, a patient will claim that another dentist's “incompetence” was the reason for coming in to see me. How should I handle these kinds of remarks?

Answer: It is never a good idea to second-guess, disparage, criticize, or “bad-mouth” another healthcare provider. First, it’s not professional, but equally bad, your criticism may fuel the patient’s dissatisfaction and perceptions of negligent treatment. If the patient had thoughts of pursuing litigation, any validation from you may send the patient straight to an attorney’s office. Many a lawsuit has been born out of a subsequent treating dentist making an off-handed remark, such as “well, it’s a good thing you came to me when you did.”

Keep in mind you are hearing one side of the story. The patient’s opinions may be based on a number of factors and could be very subjective. It’s a good idea to avoid being drawn into these types of discussions. If you find it necessary to respond, maintain a neutral position with comments like: “There are different ways a dentist can approach this problem,” or “I have a different practice style and philosophy than Dr. X.”

Just as in any relationship, incompatibility can occur between a dentist and patient. Some patients are just not a good match for a particular treatment approach or communication style. In these situations, the patient may not comply with treatment, resulting in a less-than-optimal outcome.

Be aware that some patients who disparage other dentists may be predatory patients. These patients are often experts at appealing to a dentist's ego by saying things like, “the last dentist I saw was hopeless, but I’ve heard great things about you.” Remember, you may be next on this patient's list of dissatisfying dentists!

It is always a good idea to obtain records from the previous treating dentist, and perhaps some information may be gleaned from a review of the records. (A release from the patient to contact his or her prior dentist will be needed, and a strong objection will be an indication that there is more to the story than what you were told.)

At the same time, if there are repeated complaints from patients about substandard care from a particular healthcare provider, contact your practice attorney to determine if you are required to report the dentist.

At PSIC, we talk to many dentists when they contact our Claims Advice Hotline about a troubling situation or need advice about a potential malpractice claim or board complaint. We talk them through 

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