So you screwed up? It Happens—Here’s What to do Next

Last we checked all dental professionals are human. And humans make mistakes. It’s a fact of life.

But what should you do when that mistake you make is during one of your appointments?

  1. Never try to hide the mistake.
    Even if you think your patient won’t notice the error, they most likely will. Attempting to cover it up will only make you seem unprofessional and, perhaps, unknowledgeable. Instead, admit you made a mistake. It shows you do know what you should have done or not done and that you’re willing to be open and honest—key to building and maintaining patient relationships.
  2. Apologize—and mean it.
    Tell your patient you’re very sorry and that you’ll do your best to rectify the situation. Explain what happened (or what you believe happened) and how it affects their appointment. Allow them to express their feelings about the mistake. Don’t charge them for the appointment if the mistake in any way gave them a final outcome they didn’t expect. Apologize again right before they leave.
  3. Follow-up with the patient as necessary.
    If the mistake was serious, such as a botched restoration, call to check in with the patient. See how they’re doing. If a procedure needs to be redone confirm that they feel comfortable with it. Explain any precautions you will take to make sure the procedure is successful on the second try.
  4. Take action to make sure the same mistake doesn’t happen again.
    Was it a product that went bad? Improper technique? Fatigue at the end of a long day? Whatever factors played into the mistake happening you need to pinpoint and do your best to eliminate them. Ask a team member for help or take a CE course. Continued education and vigilance will help ensure you keep mistakes to a minimum in the future.

You made an error? Well don’t make another one…
Thinking “What They Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Them” Can Hurt You: The Dentist’s Duty to Disclose Adverse Outcomes