It’s not fun to tell someone they can’t come back to your office. And although the dismissal process can be stressful, sometimes it’s the necessary course of action that will help your business in the long run.
So, here’s everything you need to know about how to professionally bid farewell to an existing patient.
What’s a dental dismissal letter?
A dental dismissal letter, also known as a patient dismissal letter, is an official written statement sent out by a dental practice. The purpose of the letter is to notify an existing patient that you will no longer be their dentist.
Why they’re necessary
Properly dismissing a patient from a dental practice constitutes a legitimate written statement. While it’d be easier to simply make a phone call or send an email, mailing a formal note is the ethical and legal way to end the relationship.
An official letter of notification ensures that both parties are aware of the discharge. Unilaterally discontinuing appointments can’t legitimately terminate the professional relationship.
Reasons to say goodbye
Every situation is unique, so there’s a plethora of justifications a dentist may have that warrant a dismissal. But, there are a few common reasons why physicians ultimately decide to cut ties with a patient.
In most cases, a dental dismissal letter will be executed for patient non-compliance. If a patient fails to comply with home-care instructions, they can jeopardize the treatment results. Thus, a patient’s refusal to adhere to medical advice is enough of a reason to terminate their care.
It goes without saying that a patient who exhibits hostility, violence, or harassment calls for a letter of termination. This is also true for a patient who puts fraudulent information on health forms or refuses to pay outstanding fees for agreed-upon treatments.
While the above reasons may be no-brainers, a justification for a dental dismissal letter doesn’t have to be so dramatic. Perhaps the patient simply has trouble with tardiness and absences. In turn, this causes issues with scheduling and affects appointments for other patients.
And lastly, there may be several small moments that lead up to a loss of trust between the dentist and patient. If a patient doesn’t have trust in their physician’s abilities or disagrees with several medical treatment plans, the relationship will be rendered useless for both parties.
Timing is everything
Generally speaking, you can dismiss a patient at any point as long as there’s sufficient documentation that the professional relationship has been irrevocably damaged. This is because dentists obtain the legal right to discharge a patient from their practice.
However, things get a bit tricky when the patient in question is in the middle of a treatment plan with you. To avoid a potential lawsuit or an ill-reputation, it’s best practice to hold off on sending a dental dismissal letter until any outstanding treatment is completed.
Aside from waiting until all pending treatment is finished, you should also make an effort to remedy the relationship before permanently cutting out a patient from your care.
It’s the last resort
Being a physician comes with the professional obligation to maintain and foster positive dentist-patient relationships. A formal letter of discharge typically occurs as the last straw that broke the camel’s back. So, don’t jump the gun on turning away a patient.
It’s important to remember that a bad relationship could just be a sign of miscommunication or a patient who had unpleasant experiences with a different dentist in the past. Attentive listening, showing empathy, and thoughtfully explaining treatment plans can quickly diffuse tension.
Tips before you dismiss
You must document all efforts that were made to remedy the situation before dismissing a patient from your dental practice. Likewise, you should document every incident that occurred leading up to the failure of the professional relationship. Having a written history of this in the patient’s record will be your greatest ally should you find yourself in the unlikely case of abandonment or replacement allegations.
A patient can claim abandonment if they were discharged without sufficient time to secure a new dentist or if outstanding treatment was withheld.
So, dentists can avoid an abandonment liability by providing the patient with appropriate notice and fulfilling any dental work that’s already been started.
Closing the loop on care
A dental dismissal letter must always comply with state laws. So, make sure to check your state regulations to find out the length of time you need to remain available for emergency care once you discharge a patient.
Most states mandate that you continue to see them for 30 days and finish any in-progress treatment. However, if you believe finding a new practitioner or the amount of remaining treatment for the patient needs more time, it’s your call to extend the timeline.
Replacement claims occur when the discharging process fails to include assisting the patient with finding a new provider. This doesn’t mean that you need to find a new dentist for them. But, you do need to support their transition by directing them to a dental association that aids in transferring care.
One way to make sure you aren’t guilty of replacement is to include a transfer of records along with the dental patient dismissal letter.
Transfer of records
Inform the patient that you’ll transfer their records to their new provider. Also, you should attach authorization for the release of the patient’s records to the letter.
While dentists can request a payment from the patient for their records, they can’t withhold their release if the patient fails to pay. This is to prevent a situation in which the patient is unable to receive proper care from another physician.
So, you’ve decided to bid adieu
Once you’ve exhausted all other options for fixing the relationship with your patient, the next best course of action is to make an official termination.
What to include in your dental dismissal letter
Make sure to keep the letter formal, objective, and brief. You don’t need to dwell on goodbyes or defend your justifications for the discharge. This isn’t a breakup— it’s the professional termination of a doctor-patient relationship. If you’re concerned about how your letter will come off, you can look up dental patient termination letter examples online to get a feel for their general tone.
Set them up for success
Setting the patient up for success begins with ensuring that they’re aware of their oral issues. Your letter should clearly state all of the patient’s untreated diagnoses and the risks of failing to treat them.
Also, don’t forget to provide a reasonable length of time you’ll be available for emergency care and a transfer of records to avoid abandonment or replacement allegations.
Your dental dismissal letter should state how any remaining payments the patient has may be handled. This includes the amount of the balance owed, specific terms for the expected amount, and if they’ll be given a refund or if the balance will be waived.
Seal the deal
A dismissal letter from a dental office must be certified. This means that it needs to come with a receipt that confirms its delivery, which includes the date and proof of delivery. Sending the letter via mail ensures there’s physical, trackable evidence of the notice.
There’s no doubt that successful dentist-patient relationships are directly linked to a successful dental practice. Loyal patients who give referrals are essential to attracting new patients to your business. But, just like in any other relationship, there will be bumps in the road; and sometimes, the best thing to do is say farewell.
If you’re considering sending out a dental dismissal letter, you’re not alone. Nearly every dentist will need to resort to discharging a patient at some point or another in their career. So, don’t put up with patients who aren’t worth your time or effort. Let patients know when they’re no longer welcome, so you can clear up your busy schedule for others who will be grateful for your care.