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Unsanitary Dental Office Raises Issue of Infections Acquired When Receiving Medical Care

April 11, 2013

The recent story about a dentist in Oklahoma who is accused of exposing as many as 7,000 patients to the risk of HIV and hepatitis because of unsanitary practices may give some pause about the cleanliness of the offices of medical providers, hospitals and dental offices. According to a media report, the local Department of Health for the state is offering free screenings for the diseases to thousands of Dr. W. Scott Harrington’s former patients.

According to media reports, the dentist’s clinics posed a serious risk of causing infection from HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C because of poor hygiene practices employed in the clinics. The public health risk has led others to contemplate potential liability for infections and diseases contracted because of poor hygiene and anti-infection procedures in hospitals, medical clinics and dental offices.

If someone contracts an infection or disease under these circumstances, they must establish the appropriate standard of care that would be taken by a similarly situated dentist or other medical provider as well as conduct that deviated from this standard of care. While this case might be a rather easy one to establish such a breach of safe practices because of the action taken by the state health agency, other cases might be a closer call. Expert testimony is usually required to establish both the appropriate standard of care, which would include appropriate measures to avoid exposing patients to infection because of contaminated instruments, as well as the actions that caused a breach in the standard of care.

While this particular case occurred in the setting of a dental practice, infections in hospitals that cause more serious harm to patients are on the rise. A recent study found that there has been little improvement in hospital acquired infections over the last decade. According to a Health and Human services quality report to Congress, approximately 98,000 people per year die because of medical errors and preventable infections. The report provided the following concerning findings about infections contracted in hospital facilities:

  • Urinary infections acquired following surgery increased by 3.6 percent.
  • Overall infection rates resulting from medical care rose 1.6 percent.
  • Bloodstream infections after surgery rose by 8 percent.

These disappointing results follow a decade of efforts to reduce hospital acquired infections after concerns about this type of medical complication became prominent more than a decade ago. While dentists, physicians and surgeons can be the subject of a medical malpractice lawsuit for transmission of HIV, hepatitis and other infections, there also have been cases involving medical insurance companies being held liable for making a referral to a dentist whose negligence caused a patient to contract HIV.

Our experienced Georgia medical malpractice attorneys may be able to represent you in seeking compensation if you have contracted HIV or another serious infectious condition while under a medical professional’s care. Our medical malpractice lawyers at Montlick and Associates are available to provide effective legal representation to those throughout all of Georgia and the Southeast.

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For over 38 years, the experienced attorneys from Montlick & Associates have been helping families in Georgia and throughout the Southeast get the compensation and benefits they deserve after an accident. Montlick & Associates is also dedicated to giving back to the community through the firm’s extensive public service programs.

The firm was recently honored by the Georgia House of Representatives for its 30 years of service, with the passing of House Resolution 394, recognizing Montlick & Associates for "the outstanding accomplishments of this distinguished firm," and “for providing efficient, effective and dedicated services to the citizens of Georgia.”

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Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.