A disciplinary hearing or investigation is a serious—and potentially expensive—matter. No dentist wants to experience a hearing, but if the worst case happens, the best thing you can do is be prepared. We invited Alan Rudakoff, a lawyer who has been representing dentists for over 35 years, to share his experience and advice on this subject.
What type of complaints do people make?
The public can make a complaint about anything they’re unhappy with—treatments, billings, record-keeping, issues with prescriptions, inappropriate interactions with the dentist or their staff, a dentist’s attitude, even treatment by other staff in the office.
What happens when a complaint is lodged?
It depends on where you practise, but generally there is a multi-stage process that includes:
- an investigation and interviews by your lawyer;
- a written response to the complaint, which may result in a dismissal;
- further investigation by the regulator—both sides can engage experts;
- agreement to a penalty, or a hearing.
What happens in a hearing?
There are lawyers for both sides, with witnesses called and evidence presented. Instead of a judge and jury, there is a panel of your peers. Unlike at a courtroom trial, you are required to testify, including cross-examination.
Are expert witnesses required?
This is very common. They need to research and write a report, and if there is a hearing they have to leave their practice to attend, potentially from out of town. All these activities will add to your costs.
What are the possible penalties?
They range from mild to very severe—and the results of disciplinary actions are publicized.
More Severe Penalties
What happens when there is an audit by an insurer?
You receive a letter asking for repayment of a specific amount. Your lawyer analyzes the request, usually with a forensic accountant, and manages negotiations with the insurer. In the worst-case scenario the insurer could decertify you.
Can a dentist defend himself/herself without representation?
Yes, but a lawyer experienced in this area (a) knows the rules of procedure, (b) has experience with similar cases, and (c) can help keep emotion out of it and maintain an even keel during a very trying time.
What is the one thing you want to leave readers with?
This is a very serious business. Everything you’ve worked for and built in your career could be in jeopardy. So, practise defensively, operate with integrity, and if you do run into a problem make sure you are well represented. It makes a difference.
A complaint lodged with a regulator is different than a malpractice suit, but in both cases there are best practices that will help you stay out of harm’s way. Read about steps you can take to help you avoid malpractice actions.
Alan Rudakoff, Q. C., is a leading practitioner in the areas of dental malpractice defence, personal injury defense, and commercial insurance. He is based in Calgary.