When Things Go Wrong
In medicine, as in life, things will go wrong. We buy a new toaster, it doesn’t work. We return it to Walmart, they smile and give us refund or a new one. Spill a hot cup of coffee on your lap and sue McDonald’s claiming the coffee was TOO hot and a jury may award you a couple of million dollars for your clumsiness. In medicine and dentistry, however, it’s a bit more complicated. It’s hard to return a crown or a filling that doesn’t work, and should the wrong body part be surgically removed, there will be no shortage of lawyers lining up, offering their services.
In America, the medical consumer has serious rights. Washington has an acronym that can monitor and adjudicate just about anything that goes wrong. There is the FDA, the DEA, ADA, AMA, CDC, OSHA, HIPPA, and dozens of others alphabets protecting the consumer. Dentists and physicians annually pay thousands of dollars for malpractice insurance for treatments’ “unintended consequences”. Studies estimate over 200,000 deaths occur annually due to healthcare errors and “unintended negative consequences” of treatment. And while dentists don’t usually kill anyone ( despite what many patients claim) the risk of “unintended consequences” from dental treatment exists. In the US, patients have lots of recourse to make things right. Across the Border, not so much. I asked a dental colleague who left Mexico to practice in the US, why he uprooted his family, spent thousands of dollars and many months acquiring certification just to practice a couple of miles from his country of birth. He explained due to the lack of quality control and the lack of regulation over the profession he was at a disadvantage. He felt the industry lacked professional oversight. It enabled, in his mind, the less skilled dentist to practice alongside those dentists committed to providing proper care. In America, the judicial system holds the general dentist to the same standard of care that a highly skilled specialist would provide. Sure, there are terrible dentists in the US, but they usually don’t last too long. Just too much individual State and Washington oversight, along with costly legal repercussions force shabby US dentists to update their training or get out of Dodge.
I am definitely partial. I believe US dentistry is the best in the world. Regulatory requirements require annual x-ray inspection to limit excess radiation exposure. Dentists are required to acquire a minimum of 24 hours of continuing education annually, instruments must be autoclaved with heat and pressure, sterilization equipment is independently tested, needles are only allowed to be used once and must be destroyed by a government certified third-party, dental chairs are cleaned then disinfected after each patient, immunization is required for staff against transmittable diseases such as hepatitis C to ensure their and the patient’s safety, sterile water is used for surgical procedures and the list goes on. Almost all American dental assistants are formally trained and State certified. Nothing makes treatment goes smoother and my day easier than a highly skilled dental assistant. All this regulation and oversight costs money, which by necessity is passed on to our patient, the consumer. US dentists can’t compete with Mexico or any other country, on price alone. The American dentist business model would be unsustainable.
So there you have it. Washington, State dental boards, and the legal profession keep a pretty tight rein on American dentists. Do I like it? Not all the time. Sometimes a few of the regulations can be a pain in the butt. But across the board, they do stabilize and elevate the profession. Dental care becomes safer and more uniformly consistent from dentist to dentist. And more importantly, the consumer, i.e. the patient, is protected when things go wrong.
Stay well…Dr. Bill Ardito, DDS – Sunshine Dentistry AZ