At first glance, it may seem like dentists have little to fear when it comes to malpractice claims. The United States Bureau of Justice reports that dentists account for only 5% of defendants in medical malpractice trials. However, what that number doesn't tell you is how many dentists who, when faced with the prospect of a malpractice trial, just end up settling with the patient instead of defending themselves in court. The number of dentists who settle malpractice claims is probably quite a bit higher than the number who go to court. Take a look at some ways that you can prevent malpractice claims and keep your malpractice insurance rates down.

Don't Bill an Insurer Until You've Completed The Work

Insurance companies pay out for work that they believe has been completed. If you bill for a crown before confirming that the cementation is permanent, it's possible that your patient will go to another dentist if they discover that it didn't permanently cement. Then their insurance company will refuse to pay the new dentist for the cementation procedure because you've already been paid for it. In this scenario, your patient is stuck with a bill that they didn't expect to have to pay. Who do you think they're going to pursue for compensation?

It's understandable that some procedures may take multiple office visits to complete. Avoid a malpractice claim by making your patient aware of that as well. You can protect yourself by reminding your patient to schedule a follow up visit with your office and confirming that the procedure is complete and needs no adjustments before you bill for the work.

Walk Your Patients Through the Procedure Step by Step

Studies show that deficiencies in communication are a key factor in malpractice lawsuits. When patients don't feel informed, they tend to blame their provider for anything that goes wrong, whether or not it was the provider's fault. When patients do feel informed and have a good rapport with their provider, they're much more liable to forgive mistakes.

For a dentist, an important part of maintaining good communication with the patient is explaining exactly what's going to happen during their procedure. Nobody likes to be surprised. Dental patients in particular often have serious fears when it comes to dental pain. If you know that a procedure is going to cause pain or leave your patient feeling residual pain, tell them that up front. Explain how you're going to help manage that pain as well. When a patient knows what to expect and what your strategy is for helping them, they feel reassured, and they're more likely to trust you. They're also less likely to sue.

Don't Be Quick To Pursue Collection Proceedings

Patients who are unhappy with their care may not be in a hurry to pay their dental bills. When you have a patient that hasn't paid up, you have to consider the possibility that they're withholding payment out of dissatisfaction with their treatment. Aggressively pursuing collection proceedings against a patient who feels that their dental care was not adequate may encourage that patient to find a lawyer and file a malpractice claim. 

Of course, you deserve to be paid for your work. If you possibly can, though, it's better to try to work it out between yourself and the patient. If you reach out to your patient and find that they haven't paid because they're unhappy with your work, you may be able to easily solve their problem, which can not only result in you getting paid and avoiding the lawsuit, it might also repair your relationship with the patient and allow you to keep them as a client. Even if that doesn't happen, working out a payment plan or even writing off what an unhappy patient owes may be more cost-effective than fighting or settling a malpractice claim and dealing with increased malpractice insurance premiums.

Dental insurance malpractice is a good thing to have, but like any insurance, the less you have to use it, the better. Using these tips and avoiding malpractice claims can save you money and aggravation.