Risk Management

Risk management is the practice of identifying and analyzing exposures to loss and taking steps to minimize those exposures. Incorporating risk management strategies into your dental practice takes discipline. However, the payoff to all parties is invaluable. When you commit to protecting your patients and the integrity of your profession, you also better protect yourself against allegations of malpractice.

Wildfires

TDIC has developed a list of helpful information for those affected by any of the wildfires on the west coast. For further assistance, please contact TDIC at 800.733.0633.

Emergency Property Measures

TDIC has developed some recommended steps for those affected by property damage related to civil unrest. For further assistance, please contact TDIC at 800.733.0633.

Risk Management Advice Line

Whenever you are in doubt about how to handle a situation, or have questions or concerns about potential liability, know that our experienced risk management analysts can work with you to find a solution. Schedule a consultation with one of our expert analysts at a time most convenient for you. Or, call our confidential Advice Line for guidance at 800.733.0633.

Seminars and eLearning

TDIC produces and delivers C.E.-credit eligible courses addressing current issues in professional and employment practices liability. Choose the learning format that works best for you: live seminar or eLearning.

Online Resources

Policyholders can download free reference guides to gain insight and learn best practices on a variety of dentistry-specific risk management topics.

Risk Management Publications
TDIC publishes timely resources dedicated to keeping dentists well informed of risk management topics. Please visit the Liability Lifeline and RM Matters pages for each publication for a searchable archive of past issues.
Liability Lifeline

2021 Volume 1, Health + Resilience Issue

Explore the many causes and implications of today’s evolving wellness issues, understand how dentists’ well-being can increase the practice's liability risks and learn healthy techniques for coping and building resilience.

RM Matters

Workers’ Compensation: Proper Reporting Protocols Protect Your Practice And Employees

How does your practice navigate unpredictable times? Beyond the challenges of the past year, dentists often face incidents they can’t anticipate or prevent. But they can be prepared and choose how they respond. In the event of an unanticipated work-related injury or illness, it means having a safety net in place. Workers’ compensation insurance isn’t simply the cost of doing business. It’s a source of critical protection and security for practice owners and their dental teams.

An accident on the job can happen at any time, even with staff members following best safety practices. Without workers’ compensation coverage, employees can file a lawsuit against the employer or dental practice, and practice owners could find themselves liable for the settlement.

Workers’ compensation insurance provides exclusive remedy for injured employees, meaning that under most circumstances, an employer cannot be sued for causing the injury or illness. As an employer, having workers’ compensation coverage is not only a legal requirement in most states, but it also offers peace of mind.

The employer’s role is to make sure their workers’ compensation carrier is able to offer the best possible protection if an employee is injured on the job. This includes reporting all work-related injuries — no matter how insignificant the injury or illness may seem — and reporting the incident within the required timeframe.

Reporting every incident

In a case reported to The Dentists Insurance Company’s Risk Management Advice Line, an employee tripped and fell in the sterilization room. She began experiencing pain in her arm and believed the pain resulted from the side of her body hitting one of the counters during the fall. She immediately notified the dentist about the fall and the pain in her arm. The dentist advised the employee to take some over-the-counter pain reliever since there were no visible cuts or bruises on her arm.

The following day, the employee called the office to inform the dentist that she would not be coming into work that day and that she had made an appointment to see a doctor because the pain in her arm kept her up at night.

The dentist then contacted TDIC’s Advice Line to receive guidance on whether he should report the incident, although he did not believe it was a serious injury. He then told the risk management analyst that he thought the employee was being “dramatic” and he didn’t understand “why she was making a big deal” about what he considered to be a minor fall.

The analyst advised the dentist that it is his responsibility as the employer to provide necessary first aid treatment in the event of a work-related injury and report it to his workers’ compensation carrier, regardless of how insignificant the incident or injury may appear to him.

Workers’ compensation laws vary from state to state; however, employers are generally required to provide a workers’ compensation form to an employee within one business day of becoming aware of a work-related injury or illness. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor’s website for workers’ compensation laws specific to your state.

Understanding the reporting process

Once an employer is aware of a work-related injury, it is best practice to report it immediately to allow the workers’ compensation carrier to investigate the injury and determine liability.

As part of the reporting process, gather the facts of how the employee was injured, which body parts were injured and the types of injuries, such as a strain, puncture or laceration. This information plays a key role in the investigation of the employee’s claim and acceptance for workers’ compensation benefits. The insurance carrier or assigned third-party administrator will use this information, along with objective medical findings, to determine the compensability of a work-related injury. 

In the event of an employee injury, dentists should contact their workers’ compensation carrier for an approved network of physicians to send the employee for treatment. TDIC advises against employees seeking treatment with their own health care provider for work-related injuries, as this could delay the claims process, the investigation of the claim and any benefits that the employee may be eligible to receive.

In many workplace injury cases, the employee may be ordered by the treating doctor to take leave from work; however, in some cases, the treating physician may release the employee back to work with restrictions. If an injured employee is released to return to work on modified duty, it is important that the dentist cooperates with the physician’s orders to help move along the claims process.

Accommodating modified duties

In a TDIC workers’ compensation claim, an employee slipped and fell in a pool of water from a water dispenser. The dentist reported the incident to her workers’ compensation carrier in a timely manner, but claimed that the injuries did not seem severe at the time the incident was reported.

The employee went to see a doctor for her injuries and was permitted to return to work with restrictions; however, the dentist was skeptical that the employee was not being truthful about her work restrictions and refused to let her return to work while she was undergoing treatment for her injuries. After two months of treatment, the employee was permitted to return to work without restrictions, but the dentist was still doubtful of the employee’s claim and would not let her return to the dental office.

Because of the dentist’s resistance, the employee sought legal representation and reported several additional injuries in the workers’ compensation claim, including mental stress. After extensive litigation, the claim was eventually settled and $23,000 was paid directly to the employee. In total, the claim cost over $100,000 to resolve. 

If work restrictions are provided by the treating doctor and can be accommodated, it is best practice to allow an employee to return to modified work while they are healing from a work-related injury. Had the dentist cooperated and allowed the employee to return to work, the claim statistically should have only cost between $15,000 to $20,000 in total to resolve.

Reducing return-to-work risks

To facilitate a smooth return-to-work process, dentists should start by having a written policy in place that clearly states modified duties will be available to injured employees for the length of time they are not able to carry out their work duties as normal. Any discussions about an injured employee returning to work with restrictions should be documented in writing and stored in the employee’s file.

If appropriate and applicable, it may also be helpful to provide the treating physician with a description of the employee’s normal job duties prior to their injury. The physician may be able to review the list and pick several duties that the employee may still be able to perform while on modified duty and tell the employer which duties should have restrictions.

While the employee is on modified duty, the employer should continue engaging in open discussions with the employee about their current work restrictions as they change until the employee’s injury has resolved. Modified work duties should never be construed as punishment and should be beneficial to the productivity of the dental office and employee.

Every workers’ compensation claim varies, but with each claim, it is imperative that dentists report the injury to their insurance carrier as soon as possible, maintain contact with their carrier to better understand their role as an employer and facilitate open discussions with the employee to ensure a smooth claims process.

To better understand the regulations and handle the processes of a work-related injury:

  • Become familiar with employer-required postings and employee notifications, as employers are required to ensure their employees are aware of workers’ compensation and the benefits it may provide.
  • Notify the insurance carrier or third-party administrator within 24 hours of finding out about the work-related injury so a claim can be set up immediately.
  • Provide the state-required forms to the employee after first notice of injury.
  • Contact the insurance carrier to determine where to send the injured employee for their first medical visit and subsequent care. In the event the employee needs immediate medical care, call 911 or send the employee to the nearest emergency room.
  • Do not treat employees who file workers’ compensation claims or those returning to work after an injury or claim differently than other employees. This will eliminate the potential for an allegation of discrimination based upon filing a workers’ compensation claim.
  • Engage in an interactive discussion with the employee to determine temporary work restrictions and provide transitional work or modified duty while the employee heals from the injury. Document all discussions in writing, as the notes could be used as part of the claim process and determination of benefits.

Mishandling a work-related injury claim could lead to severe consequences, including state penalties, personal liability and loss of exclusive remedy. Practice owners who are unsure about their employer obligations should consult their insurance carrier to ensure they are following workers’ compensation laws.

TDIC’s Risk Management Advice Line is a benefit to TDIC policyholders. To schedule a consultation with an experienced risk management analyst, visit tdicinsurance.com/RMconsult or call 800.733.0633. For Risk Management guidance in Idaho, Oregon or Washington, call 800.452.0504.

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