One situation I’ve noticed that keeps coming up again and again in dental offices, big and small, is the spread of I didn’t know-ism. Before I go into detail about this common and sometimes devastating disease that can spread quickly without the proper treatment, you should know that it can impact any dental office. Best case, it’s a small mistake that requires a little cleanup; but worst case, it’s a lawsuit that can severely damage your practice.

It’s important to know what it is, how your own dental office can contract it, and most importantly, how to treat it, should it affect you and your team.


What is I didn’t know-ism?
For those of you unsure what kind of disease this is, take, for example, privacy rules and regulations. The rules strictly state that it is against the law to delete any and all patient information for a total of up to ten years (varies in some provinces). All of a sudden, you notice that you’re getting an email from your software provider that states the following:


We’ve been made aware that a certain number of images are being deleted . . .


But you know it’s not you, because you are well aware of the privacy rules and regulations, regarding X-Ray images. So who is it? You ask a staff member. She is at the front doing most of the front staff work, and she admits to deleting the images.


“But,” You say, completely thrown by her nonchalance, “It’s against the privacy regulations!”
She shrugs and replies, “I didn’t know.”


This is I didn’t know-ism—when a staff member uses the excuse of “I didn’t know” when being confronted with a mistake. Whether legitimate or not, it’s a problem, and if it’s happening in your office right now, it’s likely to spread.


How can my office contract I didn’t know-ism?
This is a great question and, unfortunately, it does not come with a simple answer. In reality, there are two reasons you might contract this particular disease.


1. Lack of information sharing
This goes to the responsibility of the leaders. We talk a lot about communication, how it is key to patient and staff retention, how it reduces negativity in the office, and how it promotes a safe environment for everyone. But communication is also the way we share information, whether by a staff meeting, or reading material.

It blows my mind how easy it is to lose sight of the importance of communication, especially in cases like this. My dad works in the back of a small shop with a door separating him and his team from the front staff. His issue is that all the information that comes in gets to the front staff but doesn’t move past the door to the staff in the back. This is a big problem and can happen in absolutely every workplace. Legitimate “I didn’t know-ism” stems from staff not being informed about important updates, changes, and policies, and this can lead to mistakes, big and small, which can lead further to lawsuits.


2. Communication not taken seriously
This goes to the responsibility of the staff. If the communication is being shared by the managers and dental owners, and it is, in fact, getting to the right people, but those people don’t take it seriously enough. If it is something important that needs to be signed, what do you do? How do you track your entire staff and whether they are in fact reading and signing off on those certain changes and updates? Communication only works when both parties are on board. Otherwise, there’s an inevitable breakdown which, again, can lead to huge problems.


How do I fight I didn’t know-ism in my office?

Communication is key to fighting this nasty disease. The dental owners and office managers need to understand that it is their responsibility to make sure the entire staff knows the rules and regulations and abide by them. If information doesn’t go past the door, that is when mistakes happen and I didn’t know-ism spreads. First and foremost, make sure your entire office is in the know; the way to effectively do that is to have a process in place whereby you keep in touch with your staff when updates and changes come along. Have meetings, email your staff, or post the changes on the wall somewhere.


Alternatively, you might be an effective communicator who is simply not getting through to your audience. You send along a task that requires reading and/or signing, and they say they’ve completed it. Really, they’ve either just browsed through it, or didn’t even bother and the task wasn’t done at all.


This requires a different strategy. After listening to the stories of an office manager who has been through the ringer with his staff, he came up with a different solution—a system that changed the way he and soon other office managers ran their dental offices. Especially if you are running a large office with many staff members, it may be difficult to keep on top of everyone. This can encourage the start and spread of I didn’t know-ism.


Our invaluable HR management tool can help you by taking this incredible responsibility off your chest and providing you with the ability to easily assign tasks, such as reading policy changes, an updated employee handbook, or any other task required easily. You know whether they’ve been completed or not because the progress is being tracked. You can set rules to make sure that no more will staff members forget or ignore those tasks.


Simply click here if you would like more information about this HR management tool and how you can incorporate it in your dental office. Or, if you would like to see a webinar, hosted by our CEO, Alex, and Dental Office Manager, Craig, focused on HR and Management, feel free to click this link:


For all regulation guidelines, changes to policies, and even the smaller updates, it is crucial that you and your staff are fully informed and are performing best practices in your office, whether online or not. Privacy is number one when it comes to how to handle confidential patient information in your office, so check out my blog posts below for a more in-depth look at 6 of the 10 privacy guidelines and some exceptions to be aware of, and share them with your staff. Work together as a team and be in the know so that you can prevent the start and spread of I didn’t know-ism.


Check out my blog posts for a more in-depth look at 6 of the 10 privacy guidelines and some exceptions to be aware of:

6 Privacy No-No’s of Which All Dental Professionals Should be Aware
Three Things You Might Not Know About Consent
Exceptions to the Rules of Consent—Do’s and Don’ts Edition