Most people think of emergency rooms and surgery errors when they hear “medical malpractice”, but other healthcare fields have the same issue — including dentistry. Even professionals sometimes make mistakes and medical malpractice insurance for dentists ensures that one of those mistakes won’t ruin their practice.
However, this type of insurance has some critical elements that could make or break your dental career’s future. Here are some things to avoid when looking for malpractice insurance for dentists.
1. Getting the Wrong Insurance Policy
Someone can sue a dental office for malpractice for many reasons, some of which you might not have considered:
- Inaccurate diagnosis.
- Adverse reaction to drugs.
- Injury caused by a drill or other tool.
- Unnecessary tooth extraction.
- Anaesthesia complications.
- Improper prosthodontics work.
- Refusal to refer a patient to a specialist.
- Lack of sufficient patient consent.
Every practice could make one of these mistakes, but the important thing is to have the right policy to cover them. Getting the wrong insurance policy at the wrong time might expose you and force you to pay a full settlement out of your pocket.
Make sure you know the difference between the two main policies of malpractice insurance for dentists:
i). Occurrence Malpractice
This policy applies to claims based on when the alleged malpractice occurred. For example, if someone makes a claim today for an incident that occurred in 2015, the 2015 policy addresses the case even if you have a different policy now.
ii). Claims-Made Malpractice
This policy is the opposite. The date of the claim determines your coverage, not the date of the incident. If someone makes a claim today from a 2015 incident, your current policy covers it. This means you might need to make frequent renewals to maintain the policy’s benefit.
An occurrence policy is permanent and thus usually provides better overall coverage, but a claims-made policy lowers your initial premiums and allows you to adjust your plan more often. Evaluate your practice’s current position and determine which is the best option for you.
2. Having a Conditional Consent Clause
Generally, you should avoid all conditional consent clauses when crafting your malpractice insurance plan. These two consent clauses are red flags:
- Hammer clause: You have the right to fight a settlement offer, but if you lose, you must pay the entire settlement plus additional legal costs.
- Arbitration clause: The insurance company consults multiple professionals to determine whether you should settle, but the decision is still out of your hands.
The strongest and most desirable clause is “pure consent”, meaning the insurance company can’t settle any claim without your written agreement. Before agreeing to a plan, you should discuss this clause with all providers.
3. Disregarding Complaints
Don’t let a low premium distract you from other hidden fees, especially when it comes to complaints. Complaints are far more common than actual malpractice claims and your state is required to investigate all of them.
A subpar provider could make you pay for an attorney to address the complaints or have a high asking price for that type of coverage.
Make sure you clarify the complaint coverage situation before committing to a provider. In fact, it is best to ask for a complete copy of your policy to ensure it covers particular procedures and scenarios. Never make assumptions about your company or insurance plan.
4. Getting Vague Preventative Services
Some insurance companies group malpractice insurance for dentists with similar fields of medicine, like orthodontics and paediatrics.
That structure might be convenient for general dentist practices, but the specialist offices get the short end of the stick. Multi-field insurance companies tend to generalize their risk-management services and may not offer specific advice for each field of dentistry.
If your practice has a speciality, you must pay close attention to the plan’s preventative service details to avoid inadequate coverage. Discuss customization options with providers and make your unique needs clear to them.
5. Paying Extra for CDE
Continuing dental education is integral to improving operations and preventing malpractice, but some insurance companies don’t provide CDE services and require clients to pay third-party organizations. This extra expense needlessly increases your medical malpractice insurance cost, so you should avoid companies with this arrangement.
Instead of letting the insurance company decide the CDE services, your people should control which courses and programs to apply for. After all, you know your practice’s strengths and weaknesses best. Pay for the education you need, not the education your insurance company suggests.
6. Failing to Clarify a Policy’s Assessability
Dentists – and all medical professionals for that matter – must clarify whether their insurance policy is assessable.
Assessability means the insurance company has a right to assess an extra surcharge if the losses from a malpractice suit are excessive. If you are not careful, you could agree to a policy that allows the company to make an assessment multiple times a year or whenever a suit occurs.
The potential for multiple assessments wouldn’t be an issue if your practice maintained a clean slate, but in that case, you wouldn’t need insurance at all.
The tricky thing about assessability is that the insurance company has full power to define what is and isn’t “excessive.” The initial premium the company establishes is the common benchmark, but it can widely vary based on the company’s other clients and other factors you can’t control.
Dentists must clarify if their insurance policy involves possible assessments and weigh the chances of an assessment taking place. If you’re not in a position to afford a surcharge, you might have to eliminate some quality options from your search.
7. Choosing Coverage With Fixed Limits
Most insurance policies have two monetary coverage limits: payments per claim during the policy period (usually one year) and another for total claims payments during the same policy period. The maximum amount for the first limit is between $100,000 and $300,000, while the second limit ranges between $1 million and $3 million based on the provider.
A higher limit might seem like a good thing, but it could backfire and leave you to pay the legal fees if a malpractice case comes along late in the policy period. An inherent limit on how much the insurance company can pay isn’t flexible enough for most practices, and it is especially unfair to start-ups that are more likely to make mistakes.
Dental practices would benefit more from policy limits based on their location and field of expertise. For example, California, Texas and Florida have a strict cap for malpractice damages that can be rewarded, so practices in those states don’t need high monetary limits. Instead of getting a fixed payment limit, look for a more accommodating policy limit that accounts for your unique situation.
8. Not Helping Establish the Annual Premium
When you agree to an insurance policy, the company will determine an annual premium based on your speciality, location, claims history and the recent developments (or lack thereof) in your practice.
Although this arrangement is better than the situation described in part six, you can’t rely on the company to make a 100% accurate assessment of your practice. You can help establish an accurate annual premium by assisting the insurance company with its evaluation of your practice.
Don’t just provide your location and speciality; talk about employment trends, patient testimonials and other details that can help the company understand your practice’s current situation. The company is still responsible for determining the final number, but some helpful insights can push them in a favourable direction.
9. Getting Stuck With Defense Costs
The insurance company usually assumes responsibility for paying defence costs in a malpractice suit. These costs include the defence lawyer, witness fees, court reporter fees and clerical expenses. However, you can’t assume the company will pay 100 per cent of the bill every time. Insurance is rarely that straightforward, if ever.
Some policies explicitly do not pay for defence costs or determine a fixed limit on the defence fees when a malpractice suit arises. Avoid the first scene like the plague.
If you find yourself in the second scenario, make sure the limit is high enough to cover the costs along with the settlement amount. This form of coverage is called an ultimate net loss. It doesn’t sound positive, but it’s better than paying full defence costs out-of-pocket.
If the defence costs exceed the insurance company’s limit, you should retain your own defence attorney in addition to the company’s attorney. Ultimate net loss coverage gives you a chance to recover the extra cost of your personal attorney.
10. Choosing a Provider Without Dental Claims Experience
At the end of the day, you need to choose a provider with dental claims experience — someone who knows your practice and will have your back if and when a malpractice lawsuit occurs.
Many companies know about general dentistry malpractice, but certain specialities like prosthodontics and periodontists might have to search long to find a company with malpractice experience in those fields.
Recently graduated dentists must also be aware of potential discounts, as most companies have more generous policies for new professionals to reduce medical malpractice insurance costs. Saving money is critical early in a dentist’s career. Spend as much time as you need and don’t settle for an inexperienced or untrustworthy company.
Best Malpractice Insurance For Dentists? Mistakes to Avoid!
Here are some mistakes to avoid when looking for the best malpractice insurance for dentists:
- Getting the wrong insurance policy.
- Having a conditional consent clause.
- Disregarding complaints.
- Getting vague preventative services.
- Paying extra for CDE.
- Failing to clarify a policy’s assessability.
- Choosing coverage with fixed limits.
- Not helping establish the annual premium.
- Getting stuck with defence costs.
- Choosing a provider without dental claims experience.
Protect Your Dentistry With Smart Buying Habits
Malpractice insurance is essential for professional dentists, as many things can go wrong during a procedure.
However, medical malpractice insurance costs can spiral out of control if you don’t account for the policy’s specifics, hidden fees and the company’s experience in your field. Make sure you avoid these mistakes and protect your dentistry with smart buying habits.
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My name is Beth. I’m a health writer with 3+ years of experience, and I run an online wellness magazine, Body+Mind.