A patient talks to her dentist.

When a Patient Complains About Other Providers

There it is, that awkward moment when your patient rants about their previous dentist or another health care provider. How should you react?

As you may realize, it’s never a good idea to second-guess, disparage, criticize or bad-mouth another dentist, physician, health care provider or group to a patient.

It’s not professional, and 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 him or her straight to an attorney’s office.

Many a lawsuit has been born out of a subsequent practitioner making incendiary remarks such as: “Well, it’s a good thing you came to me when you did” and “I’d never refer my patients to that dental group.”

One Side of the Story

Keep in mind that you are only hearing one side of the story. The patient’s opinions may be based on a number of factors and be very subjective. It’s a good idea to avoid being drawn into these types of discussions, if possible. If you find it necessary to respond, try to 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 in a dentist/patient relationship. Some patients are just not a good match for a particular treatment approach, communication style, etc. In these cases, the patient can become dissatisfied and not comply with prescribed treatment, resulting in less-than-optimal treatment outcomes.

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.)

Dentists who feel that incompatibility is interfering with their ability to provide a patient with appropriate care should consider recommending that the patient find another dentist. The proper procedure for discharging a patient must be followed to avoid allegations of abandonment.

You Could be Next

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!

Possible Care Concerns

If there are repeated complaints from patients about substandard care received from a certain dentist or group, however, don’t ignore them. Obviously, these types of situations should be approached cautiously and only when there is concern about the overall quality of care and patient safety.

If you are sufficiently concerned, it may be necessary to take the next step. Your state’s dental association staff may be able to confidentially advise you on whether to take the issue before the dental board, and if so, the best way to proceed.