As you know, with the exceptions of physicians, attorneys, and a handful of other professions, professional misconduct (the failure of a licensed professional to meet expected standards of practice) of all other professions, including dentists, is investigated and prosecuted by the New York State Education Department's Office of Professional Discipline (OPD). Minor forms of misconduct may be handled through advisory letters or administrative warnings issued by the OPD; these administrative actions are confidential. The penalties for more serious misconduct range from a fine to the revocation of the license to practice, in accordance with the nature of the misconduct and its consequences.
When the OPD investigates a complaint involving a clinical issue, the first stage includes interview of the complainant (and other potential witnesses) and requesting dental charts, billing records and radiographs from the dentist's office. Thereafter, before a decision is made concerning whether formal misconduct charges should be brought, the dentist may be given the opportunity for a personal interview with an OPD investigator. The purpose of this interview is for the dentist to explain his/her treatment. In the past, it was almost a certainty that an interview would follow a request for a patient's dental records. Recently, however, it appears that the OPD is less likely to pursue formal charges when the chart is well documented, explains treatment and the existence of chronic or acute conditions which can otherwise explain a poor clinical outcome. In recent months, we have seen that well documented treatment records can survive OPD scrutiny and, when coupled with effective communication by counsel, can lead to an administrative closure of the matter – without discipline and without the necessity of attending an investigatory interview to explain one's actions. This is a welcome development because an administrative closure, without a personal interview, greatly reduces a dentist's risk, cost and time.
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