Dentists warned over practice mailshots

DENTISTS must be careful not to misuse patient information when sending out mailshots.

Practices should always follow the Data Protection Act when contacting patients, MDDUS has warned. Dentists who breach the act could be risking their professional registration and may face court action – with an unlimited fine.

MDDUS has noticed an increase in calls and cases where patients have been mailshotted either by practices they no longer attend, or for non-dental purposes.

MDDUS dental adviser Rachael Bell said: “When recording patients’ names and addresses, they will likely expect that data to be taken solely to provide them with dental care or to inform them of services your practice provides.

“The data should only be used for these purposes and not to inform patients of non-dental products, meetings or services. Care should also be taken to only contact patients who are currently registered with the practice.”

The Data Protection Act makes it clear that personal data can only be obtained “for one or more specified and lawful purposes” and can not be “further processed in any matter incompatible with that purpose or those purposes.”

Rachael Bell said dentists must take “greater care” when dealing with patient details. She added: “Dentists need to be aware not only of the GDC guidance on confidentiality but of the Act itself. The Information Commissioner gives clear guidance on the use and disclosure of data.

“Failure to comply with the requirements of both could place your registration at risk or result in a prosecution. A person found guilty is liable to a fine of up to £5,000 if the case is heard by magistrates or a sheriff, or an unlimited fine on conviction in the Crown Court or High Court.”

Bell also advised practices to ensure patients who leave their practice are not sent unsolicited mail. Their record must be clearly marked to ensure they are not contacted again.

She said: “Sending flyers or practice information to patients who have moved on by using the information you held on them would not be regarded as acceptable. The patients’ current dentist may also view this as canvassing patients, as may the GDC.”

The one exception to this is debt recovery for services already provided. But the person contacted should be the one who acquired the debt, not their family or friends. Practices must ensure all staff are clear about what data can be harvested from patients, who can use it, and for what purposes.

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