The implications of two little words

There’s more to consent than ‘I do’. It’s imperative that each patients is involved in the decision-making and has a clear, unambiguous understanding of what is happening

03 October, 2018 / management
 Susie Anderson Sharkey  

Consent comes in many different shapes and sizes and can be applied widely in our 21st-century lifestyle. When we ladies sit down at the hairdresser, our very presence there is consent in itself that we are willing to put our coveted coif at his or her mercy, and we have confidence that we will emerge even more beautiful that when we entered the salon.

However, I suppose the most life-changing consent a person is ever likely to give is when they say those two small but exceedingly significant words “I do”. In my case, I gave my consent to that state, which is referred to as matrimony, more than 30 years ago, and although I said “I do”, I certainly don’t remember having a multi-page list of what I was consenting to, not to mention a pre-nuptial agreement. It boiled down to me consenting (even promising) to stand by hubby for richer or poorer (definitely been tested), in sickness and in health (say no more) and for better or for worse (there have been times of both I can assure you), and then we were duly pronounced husband and wife.

With the benefit of more than 30 years hindsight, I can say that I probably had no idea what I was consenting to, but young love (which matures like a good wine) won through and so far we’ve lasted the course.

It is no longer a sufficient argument that because ‘the patient opened their mouth and I carried out the treatment' it was taken as consent

According to Mr Google, the whole concept of consent came from battery, which is defined as the unlawful touching of another person. There was a case in the New York courts way back in 1914 that laid the foundation for what we know today as informed consent. The case stated, “Every human being of adult years and sound mind has a right to determine what shall be done with his own body…” (Schoendorff v Society of New York Hospital 211 NY. 215; 1914).

So, back to dentistry. When patients attend a dental practice, are examined by a dental professional and decide to move forward with a course of treatment, are they fully aware of what they are consenting to? What procedures have we put in place to ensure that a patient is given as detailed an understanding of their dental procedure as possible? Are we fulfilling our obligations regarding informed consent, which is when a patient voluntarily agrees to a proposed treatment after a discussion of advantages, disadvantages, risks and alternatives?

It is no longer a sufficient argument that because “the patient opened their mouth and I carried out the treatment” it was taken as consent.

Consent must be given “by a statement or by a clear affirmative action” under the new GDPR directive. Nowadays we need to make sure we have dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s to ensure that the patient has a clear, unambiguous understanding of what is happening.

With the introduction recently of GDPR, I’m sure practices across the length and breadth of the country will be re-assessing their procedures for consent to make sure it measures up to GDPR scrutiny.

As a referring practice here at Dental fx, the consent procedure is fairly lengthy but necessary to ensure that each patient is involved in the decision-making regarding their own treatment, and they are happy with what is happening.

A detailed treatment plan is tailor-made for each patient, which is signed and dated by the patient; if during the course of their journey the treatment changes, an updated plan is given to the patient that then takes the place of the original treatment plan. Patients are kept informed at all stages of the treatment and this is the case whether it is implant treatment or treatment being carried out on the NHS.

And that’s just consent for a specific course of treatment. I haven’t even mentioned consent to hold patient details such as address, mobile number, email address. That is another area of consent that is insufficient to assume by the mere nod of a head. But it’s reassuring to know that tools are at our disposal to make the task as least onerous as possible.

In this article, we have merely scraped the surface of the whole topic of consent; there will be whole books available on the subject but suffice to say there are clear rules and regulations that must be followed in order to satisfy the governing bodies of the land.”

If you wish to contact Susie about this article or any other practice management issues, she can be reached at

Tags: 2018 / care / Consent / Dental consent / October / October 2018 / patient care / Treatment

Categories: Magazine / Management

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