As a service industry, dentistry is susceptible to patient complaints. It is something that every dentist knows they will have to deal with at some point in their career. Even when you and your team deliver exceptional care, some people cannot be satisfied and like to complain.
But the RCDSO investigations can be long and taxing on you and your practice. This is why dealing with unfounded patient complaints is so frustrating. Even if you manage not to face any disciplinary action from the RCDSO’s Inquiries, Complaints and Reports (ICR) Committee, the process seems to take forever. And you still have to deal with the administrative headache of the whole complaints process:
- Taking time away from your practice to deal with the RCDSO communication
- Responding to the complaint
- Providing your side of the story
- Submitting documents from your patient file
This administrative hassle just adds to the aggravation of frivolous complaints. You have to take on all this additional work for a situation where you did nothing wrong.
Such was the case for one unlucky dentist who recently had to defend their office’s practices to the RCDSO ICR CommitteeRCDSO Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee and the Health Professionals Appeal and Review Board (HPARB). A patient was upset about being treated rudely by a receptionist and not being permitted to make an appointment with a dentist. Luckily the ICR Committee decided this was not a case where it needed to take any action against the dentist, and the HPARB agreed. So what happened?
The Patient’s Complaint
A patient called the endodontics practice to book an appointment for re-treatment of a root canal performed by a dentist at another office. The patient found the receptionist to be rude on that phone call. The patient phoned back a couple of weeks later, again found the receptionist rude, and claimed the receptionist refused to book an assessment appointment for the patient. The patient believed this was partly because she was on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). In the patient’s opinion, the receptionist did not have the right to refuse to book an appointment or to screen patients for the practice.
The Dentist’s Response
The dentist asked the ICR CommitteeRCDSO Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee not to take any action on account of the complaint being frivolous and vexatious because:
- The dentist wasn’t responsible for the receptionist’s actions.
- The dentist never even had any interaction with that patient.
- The complaint wasn’t even related to “the practice of dentistry.”
- The complaint could be better dealt with in another way.
- The complaint was being made for improper purposes.
The ICR Committee’s Decision
The ICR Committee’sRCDSO Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee decision was a two-step process. According to the legislation that the ICR Committee must follow, if it believes a complaint is frivolous or vexatious, it can decide not to take any further action. In that case, it must first notify the parties so they can submit any additional documents if they wish.
The ICR Committee decided this patient’s issue with a “rude receptionist” was indeed a frivolous complaint, so it notified the patient and dentist. The dentist did not provide any further information (presumably, there wasn’t any). The patient submitted some recent voicemail messages as she had contacted the dentist after the ICR Committee’s first decision.
Shortly after the second round of submissions, the ICR Committee decided not to take any action against the dentist. The ICR Committee’s reasoning essentially repeated the commentaries made by the dentist:
- The RCDSO doesn’t regulate receptionists (or other support staff)
- The dentist never had any involvement in the patient’s matter.
- The patient never had a “dentist-patient” relationship.
- The complaint could be better dealt with in another way.
- Dentists can be selective of patients and are not required to take on as a patient everyone who needs dental work
The HPARB Decision
The patient requested that the HPARB Health Professionals Appeal and Review Board review the ICR Committee’sRCDSO Inquiries, Complaints and Reports Committee decision. It is not the HPARB’s place to conduct a new investigation, but only to make sure the ICR Committee’s investigation was adequate and their decision was reasonable.
The HPARB did not provide wide-range of reasons here, but ultimately confirmed that:
- The ICR Committee had done an adequate investigation by reviewing the initial submissions and requesting and reviewing any additional information; and
- The ICR Committee’s decision was reasonable as it was based on both the information before it and the legislation that governs it.
You do not need to take on as a patient everyone who calls in to make an appointment, but:
- Make sure you are not selecting patients in a discriminatory way, contrary to the RCDSO’s Code of Ethics.
- Keep in mind that you do still have obligations in the case of an emergency. Even though not required to treat every patient who contacts them, dentists have a legal, professional, and ethical obligation to assess emergency patients and either treat them or refer them to another practitioner.
Even if you follow the guidelines above, you may still have to deal with a frivolous regulatory complaint made by an unhappy prospective patient. To avoid the time and cost involved in dealing with these, consider coaching support staff on best practices to deal with phone calls from prospective new patients to ensure they are treated respectfully even if they are being screened out of your practice.
If you have any questions about your rights and responsibilities as a business owner or an employer, let us know. We only work with dentists and are focused on helping ensure you and your business are protected. Send DMC an email or give us a call at 416-443-9280.