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Risk Management for Dentists

Chapter 1
What is Risk Management?

Risk Management for dentists has a three-part purpose:

1. To reduce liability exposure through loss prevention and loss control.
2. To assure proper and adequate insurance coverage.
3. To preserve assets.

Let's discuss each of these three, define the term "risk," look at the kinds of goals needed to define your particular risk management program, and identify additional reasons you need risk management.

Loss Prevention and Loss Control

Loss prevention includes:

1. Establishing policies and procedures for identifying risk.
2. Preventing accidents and incidents that will create claims or lawsuits against you, in part through the establishment and maintenance of a safety program.
3. Establishing guidelines that will help you select, train, and provide continued education for you and your employees.
4. Learning and following the state statutes and the business and professional codes that apply to the practice of dentistry.

Loss control includes:

1. Learning how to communicate with an injured patient so that the patient will not retain an attorney to sue you.
2. Establishing policies and procedures for immediately notifying your insurance company so they can settle a claim if there is liability.
3. Settling a claim before a suit is filed, to save expenses and possible time in court.
4. Keeping a claim for damages in line by helping your attorney negotiate a fair settlement, if warranted.
5. Assisting your defense attorney in selecting expert witnesses and preparing the defense of your case should the case go to trial.

Insurance Coverage

Risk Management assures that you have the right insurance program by helping you
1. Select the right agent or broker.
2. Select the right coverages for property and casualty insurance.
3. Select the right kind or professional liability policy.
4. Determine the proper limits.

Preservation of Assets

What assets do you want preserved? Usually:
1. Your reputation.
2. Your dental license.
3. Your practice equity.
4. Your bank account.
5. Your home.
6. Your car.
7. Your retirement fund.
8. Other investments
9. Your baseball cards. Kidding of course, though when it comes to risk management such kidding is no laughing matter.

What Specifically is "Risk"?

Risk is defined as hazard, danger, peril, exposure to loss, injury, disadvantage, or destruction.
A bungy-jumper leaping off a bridge or tower takes serious risks, such as the cord being too long or breaking from the weight. Both have the same dire result: the jumper will hit the ground or water at full speed. A dentist sticking any kind of needle or tool into a patient's mouth risks injuring a nerve, cracking a tooth, or breaking the patient's jaw.
Life and dentistry are risky businesses. Risk management in either attempts to identify and either remove or lessen those risks. With insurance, it also helps compensate those affected should the risks nonetheless manifest themselves.


If you elect to have a risk management program, you must set goals.
Why? Because insurance companies will ask you if you have a risk management program and what goals you have set for yourself and your staff. (Sometimes just having the risk management program will lower the premiums you pay.) National accreditation organizations and managed care organizations will also want to know about your goals.
What might some of your goals be?
1. Reduce the potential of dental malpractice claims.
2. Develop procedures for assessing and identifying liability exposures.
3. Reduce actual or potential risk.
4. Develop a dental malpractice prevention program, particularly for new employees.
5. Offer regular, updated safety and risk management programs to the staff.
6. Encourage continued education programs concerning safety and risk management.
7. Establish a claim program to assist your insurance company and your attorney in the defense preparation of a lawsuit.
8. Promote patient satisfaction.
9. Develop a patient education program.
10. Develop better documentation in the patients' records.
11. Keep better records when acquiring equipment, plus have better equipment maintenance records.
12. Maintain a "no-show" log.
13. Have your staff pay more attention to selecting patients.
14. Develop better informed consent procedures.

Other reasons you need to practice risk management
1. It is easier to attract qualified personnel when they know your practice is well organized and your risks are identified and being dealt with.
2. It gives you peace of mind—you can sleep better at night not worrying how you are going to pay a judgment against you.
3. Your staff (and patients) will think better of you knowing you carry insurance to protect them.
4. Having proper safety programs and adequate insurance will help if you are audited or surveyed. This is particularly important to HMOs or other providers who will closely check all aspects of a risk management program.

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