Managing expectation can mitigate the risk of patient complaints in orthodontic treatment, says UK-wide dental defence organisation MDDUS
MDDUS has encountered cases where patient complaints have arisen due to patients’ expectations being unrealistic, particularly with short-term orthodontic treatment.
“Many patients have high expectations when it comes to orthodontic treatment. Dentists need to manage these expectations, particularly with short-term cosmetic orthodontics – also known as a six-month smile,” says MDDUS dental adviser Rachael Bell.
‘The recommended timescale for treatment is traditionally between 18 months and two years, so it is perhaps unsurprising that patients want a quick fix if possible.’
At MDDUS, we have encountered cases where patients have made a complaint and demanded a refund because their orthodontic treatment didn’t turn out as planned. Typically, this occurs when patients don’t realise the limitations of the treatment and want instant results when in reality they require conventional orthodontics to bodily move the teeth,’ says Bell.
‘Sometimes patients underestimate how quickly results can be achieved and they stop treatment midway through care when they realise it won’t be completed for the social event they planned it for. Dentists would be wise to make patients aware of the limitations of the treatment as well as any expectations with regards to timescale.’
‘Patients seldom realise just how different two occlusions can be and can be misled as to what can be achieved with short-term orthodontics by friends who have had considerably simpler occlusions to deal with.’
The likelihood of a patient complaint materialising can be reduced by ensuring there is a comprehensive consenting process. Patients must have accurate and balanced information prior to orthodontic treatment commencing.
‘Patients should be provided with a written treatment plan that includes all associated risks,’ says Bell. ‘Within the plan, treatment options including benefits and limitations should be carefully explained. The patient should know the cost, how long the treatment will take and any potential complications in the short and long-term. By taking the time to effectively communicate these points, practitioners will generally encounter fewer problems later on.
‘Dentists need to remember that offering the alternatives to short-term orthodontics is an essential part of gaining valid consent. We have encountered complaints where conventional orthodontic options have not been offered, resulting in the unsatisfied patient complaining that they didn’t give valid consent.
Dentists carrying out orthodontic treatment must be suitably trained and work within their competence and, as always, good note keeping is imperative. Even if practitioners don’t provide conventional orthodontics, they should offer to refer as a viable alternative, as well as the option to do nothing or see a restorative dentist.’