The importance of informed consent

Oct. 19, 2010
Michelle Kratt explains how important it is to inform patients of all of their treatment options, instead of just the options you feel comfortable doing.

By Michelle Kratt

Today there are many treatment options for patients who are missing teeth, but are you informing your patients of all of their options or just presenting the options you feel comfortable doing? Informing patients of all their options is very important, especially in today’s litigious society.

It is hard to believe that in this day and age patients are still extremely ignorant about dental treatment options. It is up to the dentist and the team to make sure patients are educated on the procedures and options presented to them. This is why the initial patient consultation is so critical. It is much more than just telling patients what you can do for them; it is the appointment where you gather the facts (radiographs, photos, diagnostic photos) and listen to what patients want. Many times, if it is a complex case, you are unable to give the patient a treatment plan during that visit, and you may even be doing the patient a disservice if you do. It takes time to properly treatment plan and educate your patients.

Have the patient come back and meet with you again, along with your implant and/or treatment coordinator, to discuss the treatment and options. When you prepare the treatment options for the patient, you need to remember what he or she told you during the initial visit. Maybe the patient said that he/she did not want anything removable in his/her mouth, or maybe the patient does not want to compromise adjacent teeth for a bridge. Although you still need to present these options, you don’t have to go as in depth with the procedures. If the patient wants implants, but only has $10,000 to spend, you still need to explain what the ideal treatment would be and also say that the option the patient has selected is viable. All of these options need to be kept with the patient’s record — yes, even the ones that were rejected. It must also be documented that you discussed all patient options along with benefits and risks. Years down the road, you don’t want the patient coming back saying that you never presented implants as an option If you haven’t retained your treatment options and documentation, then it’s your word against theirs. And guess who usually wins?

The patient may or may not make the decision to move forward with treatment immediately following your treatment presentation, especially if it is a large case, so follow-up is extremely important. If the patient does decide to move forward with treatment immediately, then this is when he or she should sign the consent forms, NOT the day of the procedure. This gives the patient sufficient time to read the form and ask any questions. You don’t want to wait until the day of the procedure, because details can be forgotten or the patient is rushed and doesn’t have all questions and concerns addressed.

Properly informing and educating patients increases case acceptance, enhances the quality of time spent during the consultation, and minimizes practice liability. It is so important that the whole team is on the same page when it comes to patient education and informed consent. There are many different forms available for all procedures; make sure you are utilizing them.

Author bio
With 20 years of dental experience, Michelle Kratt recently made the shift to dental practice management consulting. She is currently working on dual fellowships with the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries and the American Association of Dental Office Managers (AADOM). Michelle is also the founder and president of NEDAT Study Club for dental administrative team members, and was recently recognized by AADOM for her efforts. She can be reached at [email protected].