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MDDUS advises on patient consent procedures

Dental practitioners are being advised not to assume that a patient is willing to have treatment just by sitting in the dental chair and opening their mouths.

It may sound obvious, but the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland (MDDUS) is warning dentists not to become complacent when securing consent for treatments.

The dental organisation has dealt with a number of cases where a practitioner has proceeded with a course of treatment on the assumption the patient is in agreement, only to be the subject of a complaint when the patient claims the procedure was not agreed.

In the case of minor or routine investigations or treatments, the General Medical Council suggests it is usually enough to have oral consent if the patient is in agreement with a proposed form of treatment.

Where the lines blur, according to MDDUS and the General Medical Council, is when it comes to implied consent.

For example, when a patient rolls up their sleeve and presents their arm for a blood pressure check, many practitioners would agree they are consenting to treatment.

And while this may be the implication, consent should be part of an ongoing discussion and particularly for larger procedures where extra costs may be incurred, written consent should be obtained.

“Obtaining consent is part of managing the patient’s expectations within a consultation. For doctors, asking a question such as “Do you mind if I examine your ears?” is both reassuring to the patient and a part of ensuring oral and implied consent. Remember that further consent is always required for more invasive procedures,” MDDUS guidance states.

Furthermore, it is also crucial that practitioners make sure that patients understand the procedure that is being recommended to them – this means informing them of what exactly it involves and a projection of costs.

Through dental staff training, practices can ensure they have a consistent approach to obtaining patient consent in place in order to avoid the incidence of complaint.

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