Dentists urged to clarify treatment options

MDDUS is urging dentists to ensure they provide accurate information to patients regarding proposed treatment.

This reminder comes in light of the recent Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report which claimed that some patients receive insufficient information to make valid decisions about their dental treatment.

In particular, advice about availability of NHS treatment was singled out for concern by this study which concluded that around 500,000 patients may be misled into paying higher fees for private dental treatment each year.

Responding to the findings, MDDUS dental adviser Doug Hamilton believes that the vast majority of dentists would never intentionally misinform a patient. Hamilton says: "Although advice regarding projected charges may not seem as important as other considerations such as the risks and benefits of treatment options, this information must not be omitted from the consenting process.

"In fact, all dentists are required by the GDC to provide a cost estimate and clarify whether these charges are private or NHS."

This ethical obligation is reflected in the NHS regulations which require, in most instances, the NHS practitioner to provide a written treatment plan that sets out the fees for each item of service.

"If all or part of this treatment is to be carried out privately, then this must be stipulated in this plan and then be signed by the patient," adds Hamilton. "If the proposed plan requires to be amended, a revised estimate should be provided."

Completion of estimate forms provides patients with the information they need to make informed choices and will also demonstrate compliance with NHS regulations. But Hamilton points out that in cases where private treatment is undertaken, there remains the question of whether the patient’s agreement was based upon accurate advice. This is really where the OFT’s concerns lie.

"Once again, clear guidance on this point is provided by the GDC requirement that dentists always put the interests of their patients before their own. Recommendation of private care to NHS patients must be delivered upon sound ethical and clinical reasoning and not any financial consideration of the dentist."

As before, this position is mirrored by the NHS regulations which clearly forbid the provision of inaccurate advice regarding the quality or availability of NHS treatment in order to secure consent to private treatment.

Hamilton concludes: "The OFT report relates to an element of the consenting process which is already subject to strict ethical and regulatory control. Most dentists will already comply by routinely documenting the anticipated NHS and private charges for each patient. However, those who do not must address this failing or risk censure."

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