How should we manage Inappropriate patient behavior?

Maintaining patient boundaries is one of the most sensitive ethical issues a dentist can face. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in increased use of remote and online technology used to communicate with patients.

While we are commonly using such technologies to communicate with family and friends, we must be careful while using them to communicate with the patients. Standards for the dental team are published by the General Dental Council (GDC ) sets out the standards of conduct, performance, and ethics that govern dental professionals.

The overarching principles, which have equal importance, are:

  1. Put patients’ interests first
  2. Communicate effectively with patients
  3. Obtain valid consent
  4. Maintain and protect patients’ information
  5. Have a clear and effective complaints procedure
  6. Work with colleagues in a way that is in patients’ best interests
  7. Maintain, develop and work within your professional knowledge and skills
  8. Raise concerns if patients are at risk
  9. Make sure your personal behavior maintains patients’ confidence in you and the dental profession.

Most of us are already using technology to communicate with family and friends, appropriate ethical standards must be maintained while communicating with patients.

How can dentists maintain boundaries with their patients?

A close emotional relationship with the patient or with anyone close to the patient is not acceptable. it’s important to be alert to signs that the dentist-patient professional boundary is becoming blurred for a patient. This could include flirtatious direct messages, texts, or calls; invitations to meet socially on platforms such as Zoom, or sending gifts.

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The same applies to dental professionals as well. We must not take advantage of our position as a dental professional in our relationship with patients.

It is prudent that we don't ignore any inappropriate behavior from patients or accept any gifts. This can act as an encouragement for the patient. We should make them understand that they should maintain their relation at a professional level. If this is not possible, you may transfer their case to another dental professional.

NOTE: Keep a record of the conversation and follow it up in writing. Also, keep a log of all contact from the patient. This may be helpful in case of any future complaint.

Be careful while posting on Social Media:

Below are some practical tips to prevent the blurring of boundaries on social media:

  • Don’t accept friend requests from patients
  • Don’t discuss dental care and treatment with patients via social media
  • Avoid sharing sensitive personal information online
  • Regularly review the privacy settings for each of your social media profiles.

So be careful and avoid blurring boundaries in patient relationships at any cost.


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