Patient or litigant?

In the cases in question, the dentists were initially lead by the patients to believe they were being approached to provide routine care to a new patient. When the patients requested specific investigations, including radiographs, together with clinical photographs, it became apparent that they were in fact pursuing a claim against a former dentist and had been advised by their solicitor to request those investigations. It then transpired that the patients in question had in fact got their own GDP for routine care.

Be clear about your role

If you become aware that you have been approached in this way (and it may not always be apparent), it is important to discuss with the patient what they want you to do and why, and to be absolutely clear about your role before proceeding. If the patient genuinely wishes to receive care from you, or wants a second clinical opinion to assist them in making decisions about their current care, then it would be perfectly reasonable to proceed as you would for any new patient examination. This could include carrying out whatever investigations are appropriate in order to provide proper advice and care to the patient, and making full records, as usual.

If, on the other hand, the patient is seeking an independent opinion solely in the context of the litigation against the former dentist, your role would be that of expert witness, and you are perfectly entitled to decline that role if you wish. If you decide to accept the role of expert, you are entitled to demand an appropriate fee, and, very importantly, you need to be absolutely clear about your instructions. In the latter circumstances, it might be wise to delay proceeding, and to ask the patient to instruct their solicitor to write to you direct, setting out their requirements and confirming that they will meet your reasonable fee for an expert examination and report. You should also check with the DDU that you have appropriate indemnity in place for dento-legal work, such as providing expert reports.

Any member who has queries or concerns about such an approach may wish to call the DDU advisory helpline on 0800 374626.

This guidance was correct at publication 06/08/2012. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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