Dismissing a Patient Explained

The Kansas Dental Association receives calls regularly on how a dentist may dismiss a patient.  This question often arises because a patient is abusive or offensive to staff or the dentist or because the patient-dentist relationship has for some other reason, become damaged.

First, a dentist can dismiss a patient from his or her practice.  Issues arise regarding patient abandonment.

The ADA Code of Ethics states:
Once a dentist has undertaken a course of treatment, the dentist should not discontinue that treatment without giving the patient adequate notice and the opportunity to obtain the services of another dentist. Care should be taken that the patient’s oral health is not jeopardized in the process.

The Code of Ethics also states in regard to Emergency Services:

Dentists shall be obliged to make reasonable arrangements for the emergency care of their patients of record. Dentists shall be obliged when consulted in an emergency by patients not of record to make reasonable arrangements for emergency care. If treatment is provided, the dentist, upon completion of treatment, is obliged to return the patient to his or her regular dentist unless the patient expressly reveals a different preference.

Of course, terminating the dentist-patient relationship ends the obligation not to abandon the patient.  On that note, the Dental Board typically advises dentists to write a letter to a patient at the last known mailing address advising the patient that the dentist-patient relationship will terminate 30 days from the date of the letter.  We also advise that, during the 30 days, the dentist ensure that he or she offers emergency dental coverage to the patient regardless of capability, willingness, or refusal to pay.  If possible, the dentist is also encouraged to give the name or names of other dentists who may be willing to treat the patient.