Home Practice Management The Dark Side of Dentistry: Protecting Your Practice from Unforeseen Catastrophe

The Dark Side of Dentistry: Protecting Your Practice from Unforeseen Catastrophe

Doctor - don't let these hidden hazards catch you off guard!

by Deborah McPhee

Risky Business

As an owner-dentist, managing a dental practice involves more than just providing exceptional patient care. It also requires a keen understanding of the various risks that can impact your business. Beyond the clinical aspects, there are numerous non-clinical risks that, if not managed properly, can lead to significant financial and reputational damage. This article provides an overview of risk management, focusing on the key non-clinical risks that dental practice owners face, the potential impacts, and practical steps to proactively protect your practice.

Non-Clinical Risks for Dental Practice Owners

Sexual harassment in the workplace can lead to lawsuits that are not only costly but also damaging to your practice’s reputation. Once a claim is filed against your company, several immediate actions are required:

  • Hiring a lawyer and mediator, which can be expensive.
  • Undergoing state investigations, involving interviews with you, your team, and patients.
  • Attending court hearings, paying fines, and court costs.

Impact: A lawsuit can cause a significant drop in business, especially if it gains attention on social media, leading to a potential 40% reduction in patient volume. Recovery can take up to five years, during which staff turnover, increased hiring and training costs, absenteeism, low morale, lost production, and neighborhood gossip may occur.

Maintaining a safe working environment is a fundamental responsibility of any business owner. With domestic violence affecting 1 in 3 women, it’s likely that some of your employees may face such issues. The presence of domestic violence can lead to:

  • Emotional and psychological stress among employees, affecting their productivity.
  • Potentially violent incidents at the workplace if an abusive partner attempts to confront the victim at work.

Impact: Incidents of domestic violence at the workplace can result in lost production and increased costs associated with managing affected employees. Ensuring a secure environment is paramount to prevent such occurrences.

Human trafficking is a critical issue that can directly affect dental practices. A significant percentage of trafficking victims visit dental clinics but often go unrecognized by clinicians.

Steps to Take:

  • Be vigilant and recognize signs of trafficking.
  • Separate suspected victims from their abusers and ask if they need assistance.
  • Contact authorities if the victim requests help, especially in cases involving minors.

Impact: Failing to recognize and address trafficking can result in legal repercussions and safety issues within your practice.


Escalated Patients!

Dealing with difficult patients is a common challenge in dental practices. It’s crucial to handle these situations with care to prevent escalation:

  • Stay calm and emotionless.
  • Provide choices instead of commands.
  • Move discussions to private areas and keep a neutral tone.
  • Set clear boundaries and call authorities if necessary.

Impact: Proper handling of escalated patients ensures the safety and comfort of both staff and other patients, maintaining a professional and secure environment.

Realistic Risks and Examples

  • Violence: A difficult patient killed two dentists in Tyler, Texas.
  • Harassment: A Chicago dentist settled a harassment lawsuit for $462,500.
  • Shooting: Various instances of violence in dental offices highlight the need for robust safety measures.

Cost of Non-Compliance

Non-compliance with legal and safety standards can result in significant financial penalties:

  • State fines can range from $50 to $100 per day.
  • Legal settlements for harassment and retaliation cases can be substantial, with examples including a $462,500 settlement and a $7 million award.

Protective Measures for Dental Practice Owners

Policy Manual Updates

  • Develop comprehensive policies addressing personal safety, anti-bullying, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.
  • Implement a performance improvement plan (PIP) for addressing employee issues systematically, from verbal warnings to termination.

Security Enhancements

  • Install a vestibule barrier to control entry and ensure patients are admitted by appointment only.
  • Lock doors and maintain a secure environment, treating the practice as a private, controlled space.

Training and Education

  • Regularly train staff on handling unruly patients, recognizing signs of human trafficking, and de-escalation techniques.
  • Ensure compliance with mandated sexual harassment training in states that require it.


Workplace Violence Defined by OSHA

OSHA defines workplace violence as any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, or disruptive behavior at the work site.

EEOC Human Rights Laws

Understanding and complying with EEOC-enforced human rights laws are crucial to avoid legal issues.

Harassment Impact

Harassment in the workplace leads to low morale, absenteeism, high turnover costs, low productivity, and low profitability.

Final Thoughts

Identifying potential risks and having proactive systems in place is the best defense against lawsuits and other non-clinical threats. The importance of risk management cannot be overstated. Dentist-Owners:  you must be proactive in identifying risks, implementing preventive measures, and ensuring your practice operates within legal and ethical boundaries. Planning is crucial for preventing emergencies and maintaining a safe and compliant dental practice.

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