Communication key to dentists’ professionalism

  • Date: 11 August 2020

GOOD communication is a key element of professionalism in dentistry, according to independent research commissioned by the General Dental Council.

Involving patients in decision making about their care while showing empathy, compassion, politeness and friendliness emerged as a central theme.

The study, which gathered responses from both patients and dental professionals, is part of the regulator’s plan to develop new "principles of professionalism".

Amongst the discussions on communication, it was noted that patients want clear explanations of treatment options without being overwhelmed. Examples of poor communication were described as being unclear, robotic, rude, condescending, rushed, overly familiar and not respecting privacy.

The research also found that patients and clinicians viewed professionalism in different ways. For example, the public tended to focus more on issues around treatment safety, while clinicians considered competence to be a pre-requisite. Clinicians placed more emphasis than patients on the importance of ethical behaviour in a dentist’s private life.

The financial element of dental care was another central theme. It was found to influence patient experience, access to care and trust. Researchers noted: "Patients expect technically good care, and, on balance, this appears to be more important to them than other aspects of professional behaviours. Dental professionals are expected to be trained to provide dentistry and to be up-to-date in their clinical practice."

Dental professional groups also highlighted the tension between patient interests and financial interests, and the impact of financial pressures and isolation on professionalism.

The GDC’s executive director, strategy, Stefan Czerniawski said: "Professionalism is important both to patients and to dental professionals themselves – but they don’t always mean the same thing by it.

"This new research makes an important contribution to the shared understanding of what it means to be a professional and to the development of principles of professionalism. It is also a crucial part of our increased focus on upstream regulation, which aims to prevent harm from taking place."

Read the full report here.

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