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Sunday, February 07, 2016

Is a dentist obligated to refund money after patient's death?



A reader who is a dentist in Ohio writes that he's faced an ethical dilemma several times that has him wondering about the right thing to do.

After providing dentures or bridgework for an elderly patient and then performing following up adjustments, his patients are typically fine. But occasionally, a few weeks or months later, the patient dies. Months later, the dentist receives a call or letter from the executor of the former patient's estate saying that while reviewing the deceased's financial records he or she noticed the money that was spent on new teeth shortly before the patient's death. The executor then asks for all or part of the dentist's fee to be refunded since the patient did not live long enough to use the new teeth.

The Ohio dentist writes that while some opticians will buy-back new eyeglasses in such situations, lenses and frames can be refitted for other patients. "Dentures should never be recycled," he writes, "except in rare cases like when marooned on a small island or life boat." He asks if a tattoo artist would be expected to refund fees if a customer dies soon after purchasing a new tattoo, "assuming he didn't die from ink poisoning."

"Dentures usually require multiple office visits and significant laboratory costs," he writes. "Good will notwithstanding, many ethical dentists deny refund requests in this situation?"

Normally, the Ohio dentist refuses requests for post-mortem refunds. Although, he has on occasion forgiven a balance owed by a patient making installment payments. "Dental insurance usually pays around one-half of the denture fee," he writes. "I ask for a down payment at the start, with the balance due after the insurance check is received."

On one occasion, a patient had just retired and wanted to replace his dentures to more fully enjoy his retirement years. Three weeks after the dentures were placed, the Ohio dentist received the insurance check and mailed an invoice for the balance. His widow received it the day after he died unexpectedly. When the dentist found out he offered his condolences, and asked her to disregard the invoice. "She said he really liked his new teeth, and would be happy to pay, but I said the pleasure of knowing him was payment enough. He was exceptionally pleasant and easy to work with."

But while he occasionally forgives the balance due, he normally refuses requests for post-mortem refunds. "The amount of effort a dentist expends is the same whether a patient goes on to live 10 weeks or 20 years."

If the family of the deceased patient had an issue with the quality of the dentures, they can petition for a review of the work. But that's not what the Columbus dentist is talking about here. Here he wonders if it's ethical to refuse to refund money spent on dentures for a patient who dies shortly after the work was done.

The right thing is for the dentist to make clear what his payment policy is up front. If any patient, regardless of age, happens to die shortly after the dental work is done, that may be tragic, but it doesn't lessen the time and work that the dentist committed to the patient. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net.

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Should customers gladly pay for a $130 sandwich?



Not long ago, M.N., a reader in Massachusetts, was waiting to order a sandwich at the deli counter at a small gourmet food store during lunchtime. Ahead of him was a woman waiting for the sandwich she had ordered. The deli man was taking longer than typical and the woman's sandwich order seemed to be quite involved.

A line slowly built behind the woman who had ordered the sandwich. When the deli man finished preparing her order, he wrapped it up carefully in white paper on which he wrote the price so the cashier at the front of the store could ring it up.

The woman thanked the deli man. Then she looked at the price he'd written, looked back up at him, and asked if he had made a mistake.

"No," he said. "You ordered the Catherine the Great. It's $130."

M.N. took a look up at the sandwich board and saw that among the ingredients in the Catherine the Great were Sevruga caviar and crème fraiche. The price seemed clearly marked on the board.

"I would never order a sandwich for $130," the woman said. "You should make the price clearer so people can see it better."

M.N. thought the price was quite clear.

Now, there was a line at least five deep of customers waiting to place their orders. The deli man asked the woman if she would still like the sandwich. She said no and then the deli man asked if she would like something else. She placed a new order.

M.N. wondered if the deli man had done the right thing by not putting up more of a fuss. He also wondered, given that he and others had been waiting on line while the woman's refused sandwich was being prepared, if it was right for them now to have to wait longer while the deli man built a new sandwich for her.

The right thing would have been for the deli man to have confirmed the price of the sandwich when it was originally ordered and for the woman to take greater care in reading the price board. Now that the woman claimed that she hadn't been aware of the price, it may have been her mistake, but the deli man did the right thing by not insisting that she pay for a sandwich she now claimed she never would have ordered had the $130 price tag been clearer.

Since the sandwich was taking so long to build and a line was forming, the right thing would have been for the deli man to call another clerk at the store to help him fulfill other customers' orders. While he shouldn't have insisted that the woman return to the back of the line to place a new order, rather than make the other customers wait while he built her a new sandwich, the right thing is for him to serve her while he asks for another clerk to come to deli counter to help others.

The store may have ended up eating the cost of a pricey sandwich, but the deli could have assured all customers received good service by calling another clerk to take orders, and the deli counter would have built good customer relations for the long term. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Is it OK to accept a job offer knowing you may move on soon?



Is it ever OK to accept a job knowing that you might have another opportunity several months down the road that may cause you to quit that job you're accepting? A couple of incidents among readers recently have raised the question.

The first incident involves a reader, E.C., who was recently offered a new position, one that she believes she might enjoy more than her current job. But she also recently received news that she was accepted into a graduate school program to which she applied, but hasn't decided yet about attending. The program would begin about eight months after she started the new job -- if she takes the new job.

The second incident involves a reader, L.M., who is a finalist for a position for which she's been interviewing for several months. It's been a long search process. Before she and the other finalists have been scheduled to meet on the site of the prospective company with the search committee, she was offered another job at a different company. It's an attractive job offer, but the job she really wants is the one for which she's a finalist.

Is it OK for E.C. to accept the new position knowing she may leave in eight months to attend the graduate school that accepted her? Is anything wrong with L.M. accepting a new job knowing she's a finalist for a job she'd take in a minute if it were offered?

In E.C.'s case, she hasn't yet decided if she will accept the graduate school offer. If the job offer is for a job she believes she'd like to do, she has no reason not to accept it. But even if she decides down the road to go to graduate school, giving any company eight months of hard work before moving on is not wrong. Even if she doesn't go to graduate school in eight months, she might be offered something else someplace else. That too would be OK to consider. While jumping around too frequently might raise concerns in some future prospective employers about E.C., if she's willing to take that risk, then that's her decision to make.

L.M.'s case strikes me as clear. She cannot be expected to put her life on hold as a lengthy search process unfolds. Turning down any good opportunity on the chance that she might be offered her dream job would be foolish. If she's offered the dream job shortly after having accepted a position, then she might find it awkward to give notice after only a few months. But awkwardness here doesn't equal unethical behavior.

Each reader might be concerned about doing right by whoever their employer happens to be at the time. The right thing is to be concerned, work hard not to deceive their employers, but ultimately to do what's right for them. Their employers are hardly likely to do something for either of these employees if it would harm the best interests of the company. As long as they are honest and do good work wherever they happen to be employed, neither employee should be expected to ignore their own long-term best interests. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program atHarvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of www.jeffreyseglin.com, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to rightthing@comcast.net. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

(c) 2015 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.