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Disclosure and Apology Policies

The ADA Code of Ethics states that dentists have a duty of veracity, to communicate truthfully, openly and honestly with patients - making disclosure policies important for dental practices.

While policies regarding disclosure and apology are common in hospital settings, these policies may be missing in the dental office.

However, the ADA Code of Ethics states that dentists have a duty of veracity, to communicate truthfully, openly and honestly with patients – making disclosure policies important for dental practices.

Communicating an error and following that with an apology can be an uncomfortable situation. 

Therefore, you want to have disclosure policies in place before they are needed. This can help ensure that you are not “shooting off the cuff” should an incident happen and an apology be warranted.

When is Disclosure Necessary?

A guideline that is easy to remember and apply in regards to disclosure is to ask yourself:

  • Would I want to know about this event if it happened to myself or to a relative? If so, disclosure is necessary.
  • Could the event result in a change in the patient’s treatment? If so, disclosure is necessary.

Many states have enacted laws to encourage healthcare providers to disclose errors and exclude expressions of sympathy from legal allegations. Every state is different, and it is important to understand the laws in your state. 

Your doctor-patient relationship is built on trust and communication, which is a two way street. While you need to trust your patient, the patient also needs to trust you.

Creating a Disclosure Policy

To get started developing your own policy, the Institute for Professionalism & Ethical Practice has a checklist for Disclosure after an Adverse Event. Of significance, the disclosure discussion should take place in a calm, quiet area and documentation in the chart should be objective and include the plan for ongoing care.

While all of the checklist steps may not be applicable in your practice, the guidelines should spark ideas which you can incorporate to develop your own policy. 

Claims Advice Hotline

If you are unsure how to handle a situation, or worried about something a patient said or insinuates, you can call the PSIC Dental Claims Department. Our Claims Advice Hotline can be reached at 1-800-640-6504. 

By calling, you can discuss with a professional claim representative any situation or concern you are not sure how to handle. You can talk through the clinical, relationship and legal issues involved, and work to identify the best approach for your individual situation. This is a free and confidential service for PSIC Dental policyholders.

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