Dentists urged to ensure clarity over treatment costs

A recent report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman urged dentists to be clearer with patients about what they charge to help avoid confusion about the cost of treatment.

It identified 27 cases over the last two years where confusion about dental charging was an issue and found that the current system is confusing for both patients and dentists. Furthermore, it found that some practitioners fail to share treatment plans with their patients, despite an obligation to do so.

MDDUS dental adviser Doug Hamilton suggests that, while the vast majority of dentists would never intentionally misinform a patient over treatment options and costs, there seems to be an increasing number of complaints arising from fee-related misunderstandings.

"Many of these disputes can be avoided by the provision of a cost estimate to patients prior to dental treatment being provided," says Hamilton. "In fact, this is incorporated into the GDC Standards and, depending on the extent and nature of proposed NHS treatment, this fundamental part of the consenting process may also be a contractual requirement.

"Practitioners have an ethical obligation to ensure patients have clear information on charges, including the need to provide a revised estimate if at any point the proposed treatment plan requires to be amended.

"Failure to comply will not only undermine any attempts to rebut a patient’s complaint, but may also lead to investigation by the GDC.

"Patient complaints can also arise where there is confusion over whether the treatment is carried out privately or on the NHS. Practitioners must clarify whether charges are private or on the NHS and ensure patient interests are put first when considering treatment options," says Hamilton.

"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. Any recommendation of private care to NHS patients must be delivered upon sound ethical and clinical reasoning and not any financial consideration of the dentist."