Complaints in the time of COVID-19 at the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario

Novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic have changed daily life. As healthcare providers, dentists have additional considerations throughout the immediate phase of the pandemic, as well as in its aftermath. Even as society emerges from a state of crisis, this unique situation will continue to present the potential for a variety of new complaints against dentists at the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario (“RCDSO”).

Overview

The RCDSO has strongly recommended the suspension of all non-essential and elective dental services, and has only permitted the provision of emergency services exclusively in circumstances in which it is safe to provide such services. The RCDSO’s webpage contains further details of what kind of activities are permitted.

Despite dentists’ best efforts, this is a stressful time for all, and the likelihood is high that patients will make complaints that relate to or are inspired by the circumstances of COVID-19. This article is not intended to discourage any dentist from providing any appropriate and necessary services, but merely seeks to identify potential concerns that may arise. Such concerns may include the following:

Failure to provide treatment

Numerous dental clinics have closed in an effort to comply with social distancing policies and recommendations. Despite acting in a socially responsible manner, it is possible that some dentists may be subject to complaints alleging that they did not provide timely treatment as a result of closures or restrictions to their practices. Patients may allege that they were denied preventive treatment, which then negatively impacted their overall oral health. Patients may also complain that they were inappropriately denied treatment when their dental needs were mischaracterized as non-emergencies.

Failure to close dental office

Dentists may also be subject to complaints for the exact inverse of the above issue. Any person may potentially complain that a dental office remained open during the State of Emergency. It is possible that individuals may make such complaints even if the office in question legitimately and exclusively provided emergency services.

Infection prevention and control issues

Despite all precautions and proper uses of personal protective equipment, dentists who remain working during the time of COVID-19 will face greater risks than the majority of the general public. Whether accurate or not, patients may potentially complain that they contracted COVID-19 from their dentist.

Teledentistry

The RCDSO has provided dentists with directions regarding appropriate uses of teledentistry exclusively for the period of the State of Emergency. It is possible that patients may complain if they are unfamiliar or dissatisfied with the emergency screening services rendered through these means. Other considerations engaged by the use of teledentistry, such as privacy, confidentiality, consent, and assessment standards, may also lead to complaints.

General complaints

Throughout this situation, dentists will continue to remain vulnerable to the same kind of complaints that may otherwise have been made at any time, including complaints regarding consent and communication, standards of care, and billings.

Conclusion

Dentists should carefully consider their actions during the coming weeks, and should continue to prioritize health and safety in accordance with the guidelines of the RCDSO and the requirements imposed by the Ontario government. It may be prudent for dentists to contact legal counsel who are experienced in the area of professional regulation to help them with any legal questions at this time. In cases in which formal complaints are filed with the RCDSO, retaining a lawyer as soon as possible can assist dentists in navigating through the regulatory process. In these uncertain times, it is important that dentists take every situation seriously and respond accordingly.

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