FAA regulations prevent 80 year olds from continuing to fly commercial airliners for a reason. SULLY was a hero , but he was not 80. When should dental practitioners transition to another field, where they will not be required to complete complex dental surgical procedures? This is a good question and there is no concrete answer. Each dentist must answer this individually, keeping the true welfare of patients in mind.
When you are involved in an unexpected accident or diagnosed with a severe illness, be prepared to make some tough decisions. Who will run your dental practice while you are away? Who will make the important financial and staffing decisions while you are in the hospital or in rehabilitation? You may be fully prepared for such circumstances, but be warned that another more subtle problem may surface.
Because of the sincere devotion our patients, staff, and practice, you will likely be tempted to work no matter your physical condition. You have spent years building your practice and many difficult years in training/education. It will seem fruitless to stop practice for any reason short of death. This train of thought is unfortunately very common in the dental community. Many practitioners continue to practice way beyond their expiration date, with their peers/family very reluctant to bring up the topic. Illness and injury only add to the problem.
This is especially common in the orthopedic field. Injuries to the neck, back, and hand are very often ignored or treated superficially to mask the true underlying disability. SO WHAT? If you are fully capable to continue your dental practice in a safe and efficient manner that is great! If not, remember that there are known risks that you cannot ignore.
No matter what your condition, you owe you patients the best care. Not only your best effort, but treatment that is at the standard of care from a legal definition. When ill or injured, you may not be capable in delivering care at that level. This may be a short or long-term issue, but the legal community will hold you to the standard at all times.
Your staff are not your friends. They are employees. They may be friendly and you may share a special bond with them due to the many years of working intimately together in a stressful environment. In the long run, you staff has a life outside the dental office. They ALWAYS will look out for themselves. It is human nature and self survival is the most basic of human instincts. Don’t expect them to always see events in your office the same way that you do. If they notice that you are having problems after your illness or accident, they can be counted on to answer questions regarding your performance honestly and sincerely, FROM THEIR PERSPECTIVE NOT YOURS. You may assume that they will always be there for you and be on your side, this is a mistake. You are a team not a family.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? Practicing dentistry when you are injured and disabled has liability risks. If you are not disabled, then this statement can be filed away for future reference. If not, you need to fully realize the risks of practicing when injured or ill. If a claim is made against you during a period of disability, you must be fully prepared to document you capabilities. This may entail lengthy discussions with your healthcare providers BEFORE you decide to continue to work. You may be able to work, but at a slower pace, completing less complex procedures. Check you malpractice policy for reporting requirements, and check your disability policy for claims requirements.
The United States has 70% of the worlds attorneys. They are looking constantly for new sources of income. Don’t open yourself up to a financially devastating lawsuit when some simple common sense decisions made beforehand could easily avoided disaster. It may be as simple as delaying your return to practice for a few more months. No matter what, this is a well documented issue in the legal community and they will not overlook it.
Risk Management is a topic covered in-depth in a number of venues. Research your malpractice company’s plan to minimize risk or consult the ADA. What we have identified here, is a subtle but real risk. Be forewarned, and make good decisions on when and how to practice. See our posting on the steps to take once disability strikes.TEN STEPS TO SURVIVE DISABILITY WE ARE DENTISTS HELPING DENTISTS AND WE ARE ON YOUR SIDE.