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Perhaps there is nothing more anxiety producing for a dentist than getting a letter from an attorney or a subpoena for one of your patient’s records.
A dentist may think, “Oh, no. . . what have I done wrong?!” But don’t overreact to the situation.
First, read the letter/subpoena to see what it says. An attorney may be simply requesting records because you are a prior or subsequent treating dentist in a malpractice action against another dentist; or because you have treated his client (known as the plaintiff in legal cases) in a personal injury case, such as an auto accident.
After you let out a big sigh of relief, you must make sure there is a signed release from the patient before sending any records. In the case of a subpoena issued by the court and signed by a judge or the court clerk, no release is required.
If the letter/subpoena makes it clear that you are the target defendant, then you must contact your insurance carrier or an attorney immediately. Resist the temptation to call the lawyer to tell your side of the story in hopes that the case will be dropped. Not only won’t it work, but you may say something incriminating. Along those same lines, don’t write, call or e-mail the patient to ask why he hired an attorney.
Also, keep in mind that just because your records are requested does not automatically mean you will be sued. A patient’s attorney typically sends your records for review to another dentist who offers his or her opinion about whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed with a lawsuit.
By Illinois law, you have 30 days to comply with the records request. Do not alter or add to the records. Do not send original records or X-rays. . . ever! I can’t tell you how many times a dentist who I have represented (but before I have gotten retained) has turned over the originals to the attorney. You’d be surprised how that exculpatory X-ray of a root canal sometimes ends up “missing.”
Here is a checklist of what you should do after receipt of a letter from an attorney or a subpoena asking for records:
Armed with this information, a dentist should be a little more comfortable in knowing what to do if she or he gets a letter from an attorney or a subpoena for patient records.
A tradition of working for the dental profession. The Chicago Dental Society was organized in 1864 and incorporated in 1878. The objective of the Chicago Dental Society is to encourage the improvement of the health of the public, to promote the art and science of dentistry and to represent the intrest of the members of the profession and the public that it serves.
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