At the risk of stating the obvious, dentistry is very much a person-to-person activity with trust and communication at its heart.

For me, the art of dental communication aims for the patient to leave a consultation wanting what they need, in other words the clinician will have successfully bridged the gulf in knowledge between themselves and the patient so that the patient understands the advice given and the need for any recommended treatment.

With the patient 'on board' in this way they are much more likely to comply with their side of the arrangement, for example maintaining oral hygiene, and be understanding of any complications or limitations along the way. In such circumstances outcomes are likely to be optimal and the risk of disappointment, dissatisfaction and complaints reduced.

Contrast that with a situation where a patient disgruntledly agrees to care without fully understanding the rationale - here limitations or complications are likely to be misinterpreted as resulting from failure or shortcomings on the part of the operator, co-operation reduced and outcomes less favourable.

In short, time spent listening to patients, understanding their wants and expectations and explaining their needs - all of which is of course at the heart of the consent process, is likely to be a prudent investment which will pay dividends later. Patients who feel respected and well cared for will, of course, also recommend the practice to friends and family.

The vast majority of patients are satisfied with the care they receive and have trust and confidence in dental professionals.

The practice team is hugely important in supporting this process and in the overall patient experience and perception of the practice, so careful team selection and development are likely to be similarly beneficial investments.

I recall a radio interview when the then CEO of The John Lewis Partnership quoted a maxim originally attributed to Herb Kelleher, one of the co-founders of US-based Southwest Airlines - 'Hire for attitude, train for skills'. Once one has recruited the right people, training becomes essential. Sir Richard Branson advised that businesses should, "Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to".

In order to best reach and serve their markets, businesses go to great lengths through activities such as market research to find out what makes their customers tick (and occasionally explode..). Engaging commercial organisations for this purpose is likely to be beyond the means of most individual dental practices, but there is a valuable source of research information readily available in the form of the GDC Public Research Report.

I would recommend that you take a look at the findings of this report carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the GDC. Although there is a regulatory focus, it offers a fascinating insight into how patients view the profession and their expectations of it on a wide variety of topics.

Although there is some debate as to its origins, the quotation "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is looking" has often been attributed to the author CS Lewis - and it is very apt when considering the relationship between dental professionals and patients.

All in all, the survey's findings in that regard are good news for the profession and demonstrate that the vast majority of patients are satisfied with the care they receive and have trust and confidence in dental professionals. In fact, in the 2019 Ipsos Mori veracity index, dentistry was in the top three professions asked about.

Previous iterations of the GDC survey have shown that the public can and does differentiate between being treated as a patient or as a consumer, with the bar of suspicion for dishonesty and removal of trust being set at a lower level in the latter case (when considering tooth whitening and facial aesthetic treatments, for example).

While the key findings of the survey are reassuring and the vast majority of the millions of interactions between patients and dental professionals occur without incident, there are also messages in there that we ignore at our peril.

Communication is key, for one thing. There is the potential for misunderstanding around the use of the title doctor, for example, particularly when associated with cosmetic treatments. And patients want clear information about and access to complaints processes in the comparatively rare event that they do wish to raise concerns.

DDU members can be assured that, through our 'Guide, Support, Defend' approach, we will continue to do our utmost to help them risk-manage their practice to minimise complaints and claims - but also that if and when challenging situations do occur, our expert team is on hand to help resolve matters while at the same time robustly protecting our members' interests.

This page was correct at publication on 14/05/2021. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.