The question of whether to reimburse an unhappy patient for treatment you've already provided can be a difficult one - and the answer isn't always straightforward.

Complaints can be upsetting and frustrating for any dental professional, particularly when we have tried our hardest to provide good care for a patient. To then provide the patient with a gesture of goodwill - for example, a refund of the treatment fees - can sometimes feel like a further blow to our professionalism, as well as our pride. However, this is something that patients often request, or infer, when they are dissatisfied with the care they have received.

Whether you provide a patient with a gesture of goodwill must ultimately be your decision, but it's not an uncommon scenario and one that DDU members do approach us with for advice. As such, we're well placed to advise you on the pros and cons of the approaches that may be available to you.

By way of broad advice, if you're entirely satisfied that you have provided the patient with a good standard of care, you may feel that it would be inappropriate to then provide the patient with a gesture of goodwill.

In this instance, you could tell the patient that you are not willing to agree to their request, but it can nevertheless be helpful to explain the reasons behind your decision. However, if the patient is not happy with this response, there is a risk that the complaint may continue or even escalate.

On the other hand, if you think that the patient has raised a fair point, or there may be a risk of justifiable criticism if an independent expert was to review the matter, you may decide that you prefer to make a goodwill gesture to meet some or all of the funding the patient is requesting, to try and conclude the complaint swiftly.

You might also view these decisions, in part, as business decisions as you weigh up the valuable time you may spend dealing with the complaint and the aggravation you may experience if the patient pursues and escalates it. Again, the approach you take must ultimately be your decision, and each dental professional will undoubtedly deal with a situation in a different way.

It's also worth noting that a gesture of goodwill is not an admission of liability or wrongdoing. In our experience, when a dissatisfied patient requests something - for example, a refund - and the dental professional is willing to meet that request, while it can't be guaranteed, it is the most predictable way to conclude the patient's complaint.

Dental complaints e-learning

Of course, that is not to say you need always provide a gesture of goodwill. This is certainly not the case and any decision to part with your hard-earned cash must be yours.

In any event, the DDU would always encourage you to seek our assistance at the earliest stage so we can look at providing advice on the approaches available to you. Regardless of the approach you ultimately choose to take in dealing with potential gestures of goodwill, our dento-legal advisers can help you draft an appropriately worded response to help mitigate your risk going forward.

Watch our short mythbusting video on this topic below:

This page was correct at publication on 13/06/2023. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.