The GDC Standards document governs us as dental professionals. It specifies the principles, standards and guidance which apply to all dental professionals. It also sets out what patients can expect from dental professionals. Principle 9 ensures our behaviour maintains patients’ confidence in the dental profession. Principle 9 is:
Make sure your personal behaviour maintains patients’ confidence in you and the dental profession.
Patients’ expectations, as defined in the GDC Standards, page 80, are:
- That all team members of the dental team will maintain appropriate personal and professional behaviour.
- That they can trust and have confidence in you as a dental professional.
- That they can trust and have confidence in the dental profession.
A related standard, Standard 9.1, states that you must:
Ensure that your conduct, both at work and in your personal life, justifies patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the dental profession.
Our patients expect to be treated with integrity by dental professionals, and there are sometimes scenarios where we believe a certain situation should have been handled differently. It is very important to ensure we provide the best treatment for the patient without undermining the patient’s confidence in another dental professional, whether that professional is within your workplace or another workplace. Such undermining can result in patients losing trust in the profession, which can also lead to patients being scared of or not trusting the dentist. We have a duty of care and must put patients’ interests first at all times. If there is a concern about a dental professional’s actions, we must follow Guidance 9.1.2 (page 82 of the GDC Standards), which states:
You must not make disparaging remarks about another member of the dental team in front of patients. Any concerns you may have about a colleague should be raised through proper channels.
An example of this is outlined below:
Dentist: The dentist informs a patient that she has gum disease and advises her to book in to see the hygienist as soon as possible to stabilise the condition before it gets worse. The dentist then leaves the dental practice. The patient has not been informed of what gum disease is or how she can stabilise it herself. She is scared because of the terminology used.
Hygienist: The patient then books an appointment with the hygienist. She is feeling anxious and scared about losing her teeth after reading about gum disease online. The hygienist takes the time to explain that the patient has periodontal disease, explaining what has caused the condition and how to stabilise the condition. The hygienist reassures the patient during the whole process. The patient now understands what is going on in her oral cavity and feels reassured by the hygienist. The hygienist’s priority is to act in the patient’s best interests and to ensure the patient is well-informed and receiving the necessary treatment. Although the dentist had originally scared the patient and caused anxiety which could have been avoided, the hygienist will not make comments about her colleague in front of the patient.
Any concerns within the workplace should not be published on public media such as blogs or social networking sites, especially things that could affect our patients and the public’s confidence in the dental profession, unless this is done as part of raising a concern.
As dental professionals it is not uncommon for us to receive gifts such as flowers and chocolates from patients who want to express their gratitude. However, in some cases gifts may escalate, leading to unwanted messages, letters and phone calls, and in rare cases the patient may imagine a relationship that does not exist. It may be tempting to ignore the amorous attention of a patient but every situation is different. The Dental Defence Union provides the following advice to dental professionals:
- Most patients recognise that their dental professional is there to look after their oral health and hygiene, and nothing more. The following advice may help you avoid problems if a patient appears to be interested in anything other than a purely professional relationship with you.
- Avoid giving personal information about yourself.
- Politely but firmly say that your role is as their dentist/ hygienist/ nurse and you are not interested in or able to form a personal relationship with them.
- Inform colleagues. Someone else may be able to take over the patient’s care.
- Keep a log of contacts.
- Contact your defence organisation for individual advice if you have concerns about inappropriate patient behaviour.
Standard 9.2 states that you must:
Protect patients and colleagues from risks posed by your health, conduct or performance.
We must therefore protect our patients and other dental professionals from risks posed by our health, for example from HIV and Hepatitis B etc. This can be achieved by regular reviews of all vaccinations and immunizations for all team members by checking their HR files for records. Regular checks on Hepatitis B statuses should be maintained and boosters should be carried out if necessary. If you know or suspect that patients may be at risk because of your health, behaviour or professional performance, you must report it to a suitable person within the workplace and follow advice on how to put your patients’ best interests first.
Standards 9.3 and 9.4 state that you must:
Inform the GDC if you are subject to criminal proceedings or a regulatory finding is made against you anywhere in the world.
Co-operate with any relevant formal or informal inquiry and give full and truthful information.
As dental professionals we must inform the GDC of any criminal proceedings/regulatory finding made against us and give accurate information; this applies to proceedings/findings against you anywhere in the world. This could include commissioners of health, healthcare regulators, hospital trusts, health and safety executives, solicitors, coroners etc. As outlined in the GDC Standards, if you receive a letter from the GDC in connection with concerns about your fitness to practice you must respond fully within the time specified by the letter and inform your indemnity provider.
There are multiple factors which may affect the practice and the dental team. It is important to have regular practice meetings and recaps on all of the GDC Principles. These regular meetings will help to maintain what we should and must do as dental professionals and help us meet our patients’ expectations and maintain their confidence in us and the dental profession. Remember that you can also refer to the GDC Standards for more information on any of these principles.
Written by R Gibbons RDN, PTTLS