PLP and You: A Team Approach
Originally published in December 2014
When faced with an adverse clinical incident or patient complaint, dentists often feel anxious, embarrassed and unclear about what to do next. If the situation is one that could reasonably be expected to lead to a claim, i.e. a demand by the patient for money or services, the dentist involved should immediately contact the Professional Liability Program to make a report. The following describes the members of the PLP team and their roles in responding to such reports.
Intake Law Clerk
The first person a member speaks to at PLP is the Intake Law Clerk, who gathers basic details about the matter and opens a file. Following a routine report requiring no immediate action, the member receives a letter containing general risk management advice and contact information.
A member requesting assistance in providing a refund is referred to a Law Clerk, who obtains information to complete the documentation necessary to protect the member from further liability relating to the incident leading to the request for reimbursement, including a release and cover letter. Once the transaction is concluded, PLP asks the member to provide a copy of the fully executed release so the file can be closed, and in case the original is lost.
All other files are given to an Advisor. The Advisor assigned to an active case makes every effort to connect with the dentist as soon as possible. During their initial discussion, the Advisor will ask questions designed to fill in any gaps in the history of the events giving rise to the claim. He or she will describe the next steps in the process and will usually request copies of the member’s records, a verbatim transcription of the chart entries and a written narrative of the dentist’s interactions with the patient. In order to facilitate PLP’s review of the matter, the member is required to provide complete, well organized, legible, colour copies of the records, together with diagnostic quality reproductions of all radiographs.
The responsible Advisor may coach a dentist in responding to a patient’s concerns and/or negotiating a resolution of the dispute. Alternatively, the Advisor may take over for the member and, after investigating the merits of the patient’s allegations, deny liability or seek the member’s consent to settlement and attempt to conclude an agreement with the patient or his or her representative.
If the patient refuses to abandon a claim PLP considers to be defensible or if a reasonable settlement cannot be reached, the case may be referred to external defence counsel appointed by PLP to represent its and the affected member’s interests. The law firms providing such services to PLP and its members have been carefully selected for their expertise in dental malpractice and are very much part of the PLP team. The Advisor works closely with the lawyer(s) assigned to the file to determine strategy and ensure the matter’s orderly progression and timely conclusion.
Throughout the process, PLP is available to members to answer questions and provide support and guidance. PLP staff understand the challenges dentists encounter and the stress associated with patient claims. They have significant experience with dental negligence and can help members navigate through the unfamiliar and often unpleasant legal landscape. In return, members are expected to be completely forthright and cooperative with PLP and defence counsel, both in order to ensure ongoing assistance and to improve the chances of expeditious, successful resolutions of their files.