CDA: 6 things dentists should do to avoid patient abandonment charges amid pandemic

Failure to communicate with, treat or refer patients for treatment can create legal liabilities, including charges of negligence or patient abandonment, both types of dental malpractice, according to the California Dental Association.

While many practices have suspended routine care to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, dentists must either remain available to patients of record who need emergency services or have another dentist cover emergencies.

Six steps to avoid dental liability amid the pandemic:

1. Patients should understand how an office is handling emergencies. CDA has developed notices dentists can use on social media and at the office.

2. Offices not treating emergencies must provide a contact name and phone number for a dentist handling emergencies. The message should be available to patients who call the office, whether via staff member or voicemail.

3. Open offices should continue to screen emergency patients for COVID-19 via phone or a telehealth platform before the patient enters the office. Patients who pass the screening should not be referred to a hospital emergency room.

4. At minimum, a face shield and level 3 surgical mask are required for non-aerosol-producing care for the COVID-19-negative patient. Dentists who don't have the proper personal protective equipment should request it from colleagues or a local Medical and Health Operational Area Coordinator.

5. Dental practices should establish clear protocol for staff about when and how emergency patients will receive care and what essential PPE will be used.

6. Dentists should err on the side of caution when determining if an individual is a "patient of record." A completed health history or teeth cleaning could establish the individual as a patient of record, according to The Dentists Insurance Company.

More articles on dental:
ADA creates COVID-19 recovery task force
South Carolina dentist calls for clear mandates on practicing during pandemic
Cigna launches virtual care service for free

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