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Does the standard of care require a dentist’s office to call a patient the day after a dental procedure?
Short answer: No. However, it’s not that simple.
Hospitals and out-patient surgical centers routinely call patients the day after surgery to find out how they are doing. Not only does this practice foster goodwill, it also provides an opportunity for the treating physician to inquire into a patient’s condition, and, if necessary, to promptly address any surgical complications. And while a number of dentists and dental specialists routinely call their patients post-surgically, many offices do not.
When I question jurors following a trial, the subject of a dentist’s obligation to phone a patient following a procedure is often discussed. Many jurors feel that dentists should routinely place a call much like physicians do.
Yet, as an attorney, I often hear a defendant dentist lament, “Isn’t it the patient’s responsibility to call me if they are having problems?” And while that is certainly true, there seems to be a public shift toward requiring healthcare professionals to make a practice of phoning patients following surgery.
So after what types of dental procedures should a dentist phone a patient?
It is difficult to prepare a black and white list of those procedures that may require a phone call versus those that do not. If the root canal or extraction procedure was “more than routine” then a next-day phone call might be prudent. Also keep in mind that it defeats the purpose of phoning a patient if the staff person does not convey the necessary information to the dental professional. For instance, if a surgical patient complains of fever and increased swelling in the surgical area then perhaps a follow-up office visit is necessary. On the other hand, if a patient complains of expected post-operative pain then it may be prudent to have the patient call back if their condition worsens. Monitoring a patient post-surgically requires a team approach with both the dentist and patient participating.
Here is a checklist as to making a post-operative phone call:
The bottom line is that a post-operative phone call is a good practice builder; it demonstrates concern for the patient’s well-being while at the same time providing valuable information as to whether follow-up action is necessary.
While leaving it up to a patient to phone the office to alert the dentist is not necessarily a bad practice, taking a more proactive approach may avert complications and lawsuits.
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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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