You know that person who cleans your teeth before the dentist sees you? That person who spends most of your dental cleaning appointment with you, compared to the few minutes your dentist is present?
Yeah, that person is called a Dental Hygienist.
Many people forget about Dental Hygienists. For example, before I told you what a Dental Hygienist was, did you know what it was without Googling it?
The point is, they’re important even if people don’t realize it.
And Dental Hygienists need legal protection just like dentists. Any professional who gives you any type of health-related care needs coverage in case something goes wrong.
Dental Hygiene Malpractice Insurance – What Is It?
Dental Hygiene Malpractice Insurance protects Dental Hygienists from legal action. Often, Hygienists rely on their employers for this insurance, but many of them regret this decision.
Types Of Malpractice Insurance
Hygienists don’t face as many lawsuits as dentists, but it still happens. Just like malpractice insurance for dentists, there are two types of insurance for hygienists. The first is an occurrence policy and the second is a claims-made policy.
With an occurrence policy, the hygienist has protection even after they leave a practice, regardless of when the claim was filed. And the coverage carries over into retirement. This is considered the most comprehensive type of malpractice insurance.
The second type of liability insurance is a claims-made policy. With this type of insurance, the clinician is protected against lawsuits filed only while the policy is active and the hygienist is still practicing. But if that hygienist retires or leaves the practice (therefore forfeiting the insurance policy) and then a claim is filed against them, they are not protected.
This is why it may be a good idea for someone with a claims-made policy to also get a tail coverage policy, which protects them for a certain amount of time after retirement or leaving the practice.
Why Buy Your Own Liability Insurance?
So why would a hygienist need liability insurance? Why not just get free coverage through their employer?
These are good questions, and ones every dental hygienist should be asking.
When To Consider Stand-Alone Coverage
When you as a hygienist buy your own malpractice coverage as opposed to settling for what your employer offers, there are many benefits.
With your own policy, it will follow you wherever you go, for whomever you work. This helps you avoid gaps in coverage if you were to switch jobs, lose your job, or a change in the employer’s insurance.
Also, your policy is just for you. If you have an employer’s insurance, it’s meant to cover any professionals named in the lawsuit, so the coverage will be shared. This means there will be a limit to how much coverage you actually end up getting.
So when should you consider getting your own malpractice insurance policy? Here are some situations in which you should get your own coverage:
- If you work in multiple offices or on a temporary basis
- If you volunteer at health clinics, nursing homes, schools, or at other places that don’t offer any or sufficient coverage
- If you do freelance consulting work
- If you want to be in control of your own insurance policy and set your own limits and deductibles
The Most Common Failures in The Dental Hygienist’s Duties
In claims filed against dental hygienist, there are some common failures that we see among them. If you’re a hygienist, you should take note of these to be careful to avoid them.
Failure To Keep An Updated Medical History And Detailed Records
Keeping detailed chart records is the best defense against a claim. It can keep accusations from ever reaching the courts.
Also, it’s the clinician’s job to make sure they get a complete medical history from the patient or the patient’s previous or other doctors. If a patient complains about completing their whole medical history, sit down with them and ask them the questions one by one, just to be extra safe. By doing this, you can discover if the patient is pre-medicated, which is a commonly overlooked step referred to in claims.
Failure To Notice Oral Cancer
This is one of the main reasons dental hygienists find themselves and their partnering dentists in court. Hygienists are trained to spot cancer, but many professionals are in a hurry and miss the signs and symptoms. Usually what happens in cases of claims over oral cancer is that the dental professional(s) make a clinical misjudgment, they don’t follow up with the patient, they don’t screen the patient properly, or delay the evaluation.
Failure To Notice Oral Diseases
In the same way that hygienists are trained to notice oral cancer, they are expected to recognize periodontal diseases. They should do a full-mouth assessment on a patient once per year and take radiographs at interval points.
Sadly, sometimes hygienists accidentally injure their patients. Obviously, they’re trained to minimize the chance of this, but it still happens. It’s inevitable. One important yet simple thing a hygienist can do to quell the situation before it leads to a claim is to apologize and follow up.
Failure To Keep The Patient’s Info Private
A medical professional should never discuss their patients’ medical history or information with anyone not permitted to know about it. This includes a hygienist’s spouse.
Not Letting The Patient Know About Other Treatment Options Or Consequences Of Not Treating
As any medical professional should know, you must make sure the client knows about the proposed treatment, other treatment options, and the risks if treatment is not carried out.
Practice Outside Of The Legal Jurisdiction
The laws of practice differ from state to state, so professionals need to know what they are legally allowed to do and not do in the state in which they practice.
This one is just unacceptable. Sometimes hygienists commit fraud, even though they’re expected to operate honestly, morally, and legally. This can lead to court and possible jail time.
Dental Hygiene Liability Insurance Purchase
Fortunately for dental hygienists, malpractice insurance usually costs less than $100 per year, which is worth it when you consider what it could cost for lawyers, settlements, and loss of income.
There are plenty of insurance companies, but the best ones include:
- American Dental Hygienists’ Association
- Dentists Benefits Insurance Company
- Presidio Insurance Solutions
- CM&F Group
- Proliability (powered by Mercer)
- MDA Insurance
- Mitchell & Mitchell Insurance Company
Just as dentists need liability insurance, so do Dental Hygienists. Dental Hygienists make mistakes too and complications happen under their watch, so it’s best for every single dental professional to have some sort of protection against any type of lawsuit.