A DDU member called the advice-line as she was soon going to be leaving a practice. The member was an associate and the practice owners had told her that she was not allowed to tell patients she was leaving, as these patients had entered into a practice payment plan. The owners were concerned about what impact telling patients would have on the practice.
The DDU member felt she was not able to be entirely transparent with the patients, some of whom were booking appointments on the mistaken understanding that they would be returning to her.
The DDU adviser recommended that the member put patients' interests first. Irrespective of any financial arrangement entered into with the practice by these patients, the member had a professional and legal duty not to mislead them when they were under her care.
The adviser explained that patients can be misled by information being withheld, as well as by information that is provided. If patients were making appointments on the understanding that they would be returning to the member and this was not the case, these patients were being misled in some way and this needed to be addressed.
While it is understandable why practice owners may be reluctant for patients to be informed when associates are leaving, this might actually prove counterproductive. Not only is the practice risking criticism for being involved in misleading patients, but when patients eventually find out, some are likely to be unhappy. They could complain and involve third parties, or simply tell other patients, who themselves may decide not to return.
The DDU's adviser therefore suggested the dentist speak with the practice owners about her concerns, to mutually agree how patients were to be informed that she was leaving.
It is sometimes helpful to follow up conversations such as this with an email, confirming what was agreed. In this situation, being entirely open and honest is likely to be the best approach for associate dentists and patients - as well as for the goodwill of the practice.