Did you know that not obtaining proper medical consent can break you and your dental practice? Because of your role in carrying out procedures that have uncertain outcomes for patients, liability is always at stake. Our goal is to walk you through 10 important tips to help you safeguard yourself and your dental practice.
1. Informed Permission
Informed permission involves communicating with patients in a way that provides them with the necessary information regarding the procedure, so they can make an informed decision. Handing patients a Medical Consent Form to sign, without allowing them a chance to understand the implications, is not the wholesome approach that patients are looking for.
Patients are fully entitled to a thorough explanation of expected outcomes, potential side effects/risks, alternative treatments, follow up care, etc. Empowering patients with knowledge about these important steps of the procedure wins their trust and makes them feel that they’re part of the decision-making process.
2. Take the Law Seriously
Is it safe to take verbal consent from a patient for a procedure in which written consent is needed? The law makes it quite clear that a signed medical consent form is critical to obtain from a patient - prior to a procedure being done. In other words, play it safe by following the law precisely.
There may be exceptions to this in regards to emergency treatment, when the patient is unable to provide consent. However, as a practitioner, you’ll be best protected if you keep yourself updated with federal and state regulations for dental practitioners, and abide by them.
3. Deception is Unlawful
How would it come across to you if your provider only told you about one portion of a multi-step procedure? You’d certainly feel short-changed and lose trust. The same holds true for proper patient education about all expected portions of their dental procedure.
If there’s a high possibility that a patient will need to be referred out after an initial procedure, it’s critical to be transparent with them from the start, so they don’t feel taken advantage of. Intentional deception is not only unlawful, but also unethical, and makes patients feel wary of providers.
4. Revised Treatment with Up-to-Date Form
What if you approached consent as a continuous dialogue with patients and took measures to ensure consent stays up-to-date when new revisions are made to the treatment plan? Unplanned changes can happen to any patient’s treatment plan. When this happens, patients have the right to know the implications, and provide consent for the revised treatment.
5. If a Patient Refuses
Patients do have the right to refuse treatment from a provider. If a patient chooses to decline a procedure, even after understanding the implications of doing so, the provider must respect their decision. Emergency cases may be an exception depending on state laws, but the typical procedures do require a patient’s consent.
An important element in obtaining a signed medical consent form from a patient involves excellence in being able to communicate the importance of the procedure for the patient’s health. Patients with a sound understanding of why a treatment is critical are more likely to accept it.
6. Document Notes
Is there a benefit to documenting notes in a patient's chart? Looking at it from a legal perspective - yes! In addition to obtaining a signed medical consent form, notes are a critical part of documentation that should be utilized for writing down what has been communicated to the patient, and what their response was.
Providing descriptive, and explanatory notes will be of higher value, if the need ever arises for exam reports to be used for legal purposes. Just as a medical consent form is a legal document, a patient’s exam report is also a legal document that is acknowledged and considered when questions arise about what was discussed during the exam.
More complex procedures mean more concern from patients, requiring thorough explanations of what to expect. Proper proportionality of the treatment and understanding of implications should be in place. A simple tooth filling is not of the same caliber as a dental implant.
With one having very little risk and follow-up care compared to the other, patient education should be done accordingly to ensure realistic expectations are in place before the treatment is carried out.
8. Guardian Consent
The question may arise - who is authorized to sign the medical consent form if the patient is a minor, or incapable of signing for themselves? In these cases it’s important to be familiar with state and federal regulations, to avoid legal repercussions. Some states may accept consent from certain family members, and be more relaxed on who is considered a legal guardian, whereas other states may differ.
9. Encourage Questions
Are your patients rushed into signing medical consent forms without being given adequate time or opportunity to ask questions? If your office falls into this category, it may be time to consider prioritizing patient education above the speed of just getting things done.
This is critical for building trust and patient loyalty. Provider-patient communication serves as the foundation for how patients perceive you and your practice, and tends to be brushed aside in the rush of things.
10. In their Shoes
Placing ourselves in the patients’ shoes helps keep us in line with expected reactions. If patients feel that they’re a part of the decision-making process, and well informed on what to expect every step of the way, the impression they’ll get is that they’re very much valued. Patient perception is a critical element in the entire consent process. It’s so much more than just getting a signature on a sheet of paper.
Obtaining a signed Medical Consent Form from a patient prior to a procedure is vital for a number of reasons. Beyond the legal parameters, educating patients properly is important so they feel well-informed on the treatment, alternative options, potential side effects, and implications if not carried through.
If your office is still using paper consent forms, try digitizing them with mConsent to reduce documentation time by 35% and provide patients with a faster, more convenient option of completing forms digitally.