What Dentists Need to Know: Legal Issues, Contracts, and Professionalism

As a dentist, providing high-quality care to your patients is always the top priority. However, running a successful dental practice also means navigating various legal considerations. From forming the right business entity to negotiating contracts and maintaining licensure, dentists face a wide range of legal issues.

Mistakes in these areas can lead to costly disputes, disciplinary actions, and reputational harm. That’s why every dentist needs to have a solid understanding of the key legal matters impacting their practice. Even better, enlisting the counsel of an experienced dental corporate formation lawyer can provide you with guidance and peace of mind.

Let’s cover what every dentist needs to know about the legal side of dentistry.

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Practice Ownership Structures

One of the first legal decisions dentists face is choosing the appropriate ownership structure for their practice. The most common options are:

The right choice depends on factors like tax implications, liability concerns, and plans for future growth. A dental attorney can help assess your situation and determine the optimal practice structure.

Employment Law

Symbol image: Reference book on employment law and a statue of Justitia.

Whether you have one employee or a large staff, employment law is a major concern for dental practices. Key issues include employee classification, discrimination & harassment, wage & hour laws, and employee handbooks. An experienced dental lawyer can address these issues with you.

HIPAA & Patient Privacy

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets strict standards for protecting patient health information. Dental practices must implement appropriate safeguards to ensure patient privacy, including conducting regular HIPAA training, securing patient records, using compliant software, obtaining patient release forms, and responding promptly to record requests.

Failure to comply with HIPAA can result in significant fines and even criminal penalties. A dentist lawyer well-versed in HIPAA can help ensure your practice is fully compliant.

Professional Licensing & Misconduct

Maintaining proper licensure is important for every practicing dentist. Each state has its own dental board responsible for issuing licenses and investigating complaints. Dentists must provide truthful information on license applications, complete continuing education, and avoid professional misconduct. Dentist lawyers focusing on license defense can provide you with advocacy during board investigations and hearings.

Contracts & Transactions

Dentists routinely enter into contractual arrangements with significant legal implications, such as dental associate agreements, office space leases, vendor agreements, and managed care contracts. When negotiating and drafting contracts, it’s best to have them reviewed by a dentist’s attorney to ensure your interests are fully protected.

Billing & Insurance Fraud

Billing errors and fraud can expose dental practices to substantial liability. Issues like upcoding, unbundling, misrepresentation, unlicensed personnel, and waived copays can lead to civil and criminal penalties. Having strong billing compliance measures in place is key, as is seeking the advice of a dental lawyer if any issues arise.

Advertising & Marketing

Dental practices must ensure their marketing and advertising efforts comply with state dental board regulations and consumer protection laws. Advertising claims must be truthful, specialty designations used appropriately, patient endorsements properly disclosed, and social media and websites compliant with patient privacy rules. Before launching any new marketing campaigns, it’s wise to have them reviewed by a dental attorney for compliance.

Practice Acquisitions

There is a notebook with the words "Cost per Acquisition" written on it, creating an eye-catching image.

Acquiring an existing dental practice involves extensive due diligence and complex legal agreements. Key steps include:

  • Valuing the practice.
  • Securing financing.
  • Structuring the transaction as an asset or stock purchase.
  • Drafting the definitive purchase agreement.

An experienced dental practice lawyer can guide you through the acquisition process and ensure a smooth transaction.

Partnership Agreements

A well-drafted partnership agreement is essential to govern the relationship and avoid future disputes. Key provisions include ownership interests, management duties, compensation, buy-sell terms, and dispute resolution. A dentist’s attorney can help draft a partnership agreement that protects all parties and sets clear expectations.

Dental Service Organizations

When considering joining a Dental Service Organization (DSO), key contract considerations include management fees, clinical autonomy, exclusivity, termination, and liability provisions. A dental lawyer can review DSO contracts to ensure your interests are protected and you understand all obligations.

Space-Sharing Arrangements

A clear space-sharing agreement is crucial to outline each party’s rights and responsibilities, including designated areas, rent, shared equipment, staffing, and insurance. A lawyer familiar with dental space-sharing arrangements can draft an agreement that prevents future conflicts.

Real Estate Transactions

Whether buying or leasing office space, dentists need to pay close attention to real estate issues like zoning, title, environmental assessments, financing, lease terms, build-outs, maintenance, and signage. An attorney can help negotiate favorable terms.

Professional Boundaries

Dentists must maintain appropriate boundaries with patients and staff, avoiding dual relationships, respecting privacy, preventing harassment, and maintaining professional distance.

Prescription Practices

A female dentist operates a machine while talking with a male patient lying on the table in a clinic. A dental model is visible, emphasizing dental health care according to the prescription.

Responsible prescribing is key for dentists, particularly with opioids and other controlled substances. Adhering to prescribing guidelines, using prescription drug monitoring, educating patients, and carefully documenting are key best practices.

Advertising & Social Media

Professionalism extends to a dentist’s public presence, including advertising and social media. Dentists must ensure truthfulness in public statements, maintain patient privacy, engage in respectful dialogue, and separate personal and professional accounts.

Colleague Interactions

Dentists must uphold high standards in their interactions with fellow professionals through respectful communication, appropriate consultation and referral, reporting impaired colleagues, and not abetting unlicensed practice.

As the above discussion illustrates, the legal landscape for dentists is complex and constantly evolving. While having a basic understanding of key legal concepts is important, it’s simply not possible for busy dentists to stay on top of every development.

That’s where a skilled dentist lawyer can be a valuable asset. An attorney who focuses on dental law can provide critical guidance on structuring your practice, regulatory compliance, contract negotiations, board investigations, practice transitions, billing protocols, employment matters, and liability management.

In short, partnering with an experienced dental attorney can give you peace of mind to focus on what matters most – providing top-notch patient care. Investing in quality legal counsel can pay huge dividends in the long run by preventing costly mistakes and disputes down the road.

Seek your consultation with a trusted dental business attorney today to protect your practice.

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