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Laboratory technicians’ growing presence in the clinical arena would seemingly make them vulnerable to legal action should a procedure turn out poorly. The National Association of Dental Laboratories (NADL), in fact, advises dental laboratory technicians who consult to acquire professional liability insurance. “Certainly, the more they’re in a clinical setting in a consulting mode, having professional liability coverage is a good idea,” says Bennett Napier executive director of the NADL. “They’ve transitioned out of the strictly manufacturing side of the equation and are working more on the case-management side along with the dentist. And should something go wrong—whether the laboratory technician is at fault or not—they’re in the chain, if you will, and they need as much protection as possible to minimize liability exposure.”
But while laboratory technicians say they have considered their potential legal vulnerability, they maintain that all final decisions in the operatory—and thus all legal accountability—are the doctors’ responsibility.
“I’m there as part of the team to assist and advise based on my experience,” says Steven Pigliacelli, CDT, of Marotta Dental Studio, Farmingdale, New York. “I give my input, but I don’t make the final decisions.”
Liability has always been “a huge concern,” says Tom Wiand, CDT, owner of Wiand Dental laboratory in Scottsdale, Arizona. “But I don’t work in the patient’s mouth. My dad was a dentist for 47 years, so it was always made clear to me what the technician’s role is in dentistry. We’re careful to be clear when we treatment plan with doctors that it’s their responsibility to know what can and cannot be done. When we ask for a certain amount of bone reduction, the doctor has to know if he can reduce it to that level. Conventional wisdom says you can place four implants in a bone, but if the surgeon’s not comfortable with that and wants to place six implants, that’s his decision to make.”