By Dr. Lindsay Compton
I knew when I left school I needed a few necessities to practice dentistry. I needed to have passed boards. Check. I needed to apply for my state license. Check. I needed to have malpractice insurance. Sure? Maybe? Kinda?
Myself and my classmates set out on the mad dash to get malpractice insurance, and true to dental student fashion, I needed the best deal. The only problem was that I had no idea what the words in the malpractice policy even meant. Seriously! How could I have endured the trials and tribulations of dental school and not know what the composition or the key terms in my malpractice quote. Further, how am I going to judge if what’s in my policy is what I really need?
Let me simplify your life and give you the skinny on the components and meaning of your malpractice insurance. First, don’t get caught up in terminology. Malpractice insurance and professional liability insurance are the same thing. It’s also the same as errors and omissions insurance. It protects you against a claim that the dentistry you provided was done in error or an omission of treatment. If a claim is made and brought to trial, it will pay for your defense and damages whether the claim was unfounded or not. Keep your auto, home, life, and umbrella insurance. These don’t overlap. It will only cover you in civil matters in the practice of dentistry.
Next up are the really large numbers that the State Dental Board asks for you to have covered. It looks like this: Effective July 1, 2010, the law requires a minimum indemnity amount of $1,000,000 per incident and $3,000,000 annual aggregate per year, or an acceptable alternative as set forth in Board Rule 220.
Let’s break that down. Minimum indemnity amount is the maximum amount an insurance company will pay out for any one claim in one year. At this time, Colorado asks that you have $500,000 of minimum indemnity. An example of this would be if a patient claimed that you failed to diagnose their periodontal disease and therefore they are losing all their teeth. When the insurance company acts to defend you by retaining an attorney and acquiring testimony and other needed items in a civil court case, the most they will pay out is $1,000,000 per case.
Taking that a step further is the annual aggregate per year. This is the total amount an insurance company will spend on defending you in one year. So if you have multiple claims in one year, the insurance company will stop covering the costs at $3 million. You may ask, “What if legal fees are greater than $1 million for one case or $3 million in one year?” In that situation you would then be responsible for the rest of the bill.
As a new dentist myself, I have a couple of words of advice despite the grim topic. Get malpractice insurance from a company where you can talk to a real live person. If something were to happen, you don’t want to be encouraged to send an email or chat online. You will be panicked and you need a voice on the other end of the phone. Sign up with a company that has dentists on their board and is run by dentists. Don’t rely on statisticians and historians to comb through legal cases to see if your claim can be won or not. Have a group of dentists that are on your side and looking out for your ability to practice dentistry. Unfortunately we live in a litigious society and some patients believe that a malpractice payout could secure their financial future. Practice with confidence and only practice with The Trust.