In the latest DDU Journal, it warned such complaints might easily involve patients leaving the practice or, in some cases, lead to bad publicity.
DDU dento-legal adviser, Leo Briggs, said: ‘Dental fees often feature in complaints reported to us by members. Common reasons include a patient’s assumption that their treatment was being provided under the NHS rather than privately, that the cost of treatment was higher than expected, or anger about being charged for treatment that had not achieved the desired result, in the patient’s view.
‘Many complaints about fees are the result of a breakdown in communication between the dental professional and patient which can be avoided if the treatment plan and charges are agreed in writing before treatment begins. This is part of the consent process but it also helps reduce the chances of a complaint and demonstrates good practice in the event of a GDC investigation.’
The DDU offers six tips to help dental practices avoid complaints about dental fees:
• Set out services and charges in practice notices and on the website. State whether you currently accept NHS patients and provide details of payment arrangements, such as whether patients are expected to pay for their treatment in advance or on completion.
• Provide a written treatment plan that includes costs and whether the patient has chosen to have some elements of treatment on a private basis and the charge. Retain a copy with the patient’s records.
• If you need to revise your treatment plan, get the patient’s consent. An amended plan should be issued in writing and include a cost estimate.
• Don’t put pressure on patients to accept private treatment. For example, it is not acceptable to tell NHS patients that they can only have privately treatment that is available on the NHS.
• Be careful about offering discount vouchers for treatments. If the patient has paid for and expects a particular treatment that is not in their best interest, you will not be able to provide it and the patient may complain.
• Ensure that patients do not feel ‘rushed’ into treatment. Consider a ‘cooling off’ period so patients have the opportunity to reconsider and don’t later feel they were rushed into a costly decision they regret.
Also in this issue of the Journal, the head of the DDU, Rupert Hoppenbrouwers, reveals that 2012 was a record year for calls and requests for assistance from DDU members. He explains: ‘Calls to our advice line increased by 12% in 2012 compared to 2011 (itself a record year) and the number of claims reported by members rose by 32%. We suspect that one important reason for this is that claimants’ solicitors have launched proceedings ahead of the changes to costs that will be introduced in April.
‘Through the work of our advisers and our preventive guidance, we want to help members avoid the kinds of difficulties that can eventually result in a claim, complaint or a GDC finding of impairment. The latest issue of the Journal builds on this work, including advice on infection control, confidentiality and the importance, of demonstrating insight and remediation if something does go wrong.’