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Dental Patient Rights

A number of state and specialty dental associations, clinics and private practices offer a patient bill of rights. You are likely to find these patient rights posted in the reception area, in brochures or on organization web sites.

By and large, a bill of patient rights is a mission statement that reflects the beliefs and goals of an association or practice with regards to its patients.

Patient Rights Checklist

The following is a typical checklist of the rights to which you are entitled as a dental patient:

  • To a high standard of care, without regard to ethnicity, sex, national origin, religion, age or disability.
  • To be treated with courtesy, respect and the highest professional, ethical and moral conduct by your dentist and his or her staff.
  • Access to complete and up-to-date information and records regarding your dental health and treatment options. This includes learning the risks, benefits and alternatives before you agree to proceed. You also have the right to learn how your dental health will be affected if you opt for no treatment at all.
  • To learn what your dentist regards as the optimal treatment plan for your needs.
  • To receive a fee estimate for all treatment, and to ask whether and how your treatment plan can be scaled down to fit your financial or time needs.
  • To refuse any treatment, including treatment that is already in progress.
  • To treatment that will be completed in a timely and efficient manner.
  • To prompt assistance in the case of a dental emergency.
  • To expect all appropriate infection and sterilization protocols to be followed.
  • As per HIPAA regulations, to confidentiality regarding your diagnosis and treatment, except when you agree to submit this information to others – such as insurance providers. (HIPAA is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1996.)

Options for Dissatisfied Dental Patients

If you have complaints about the treatment or advice you receive, you have several options:

  • You can inform your state dental regulator (contact your state government for specifics) or your local dental society or board. The latter has peer review committees that can resolve disputes concerning the quality of care and appropriateness of treatment provided by its member dentists.
  • Disputes concerning your dental bill can be taken to the Better Business Bureau.
  • As a last resort, you can seek legal assistance.

The Patient Rights Revolution

The concept of patient rights came to the fore during the mid- to late-1990s, during which time the rise in HMOs was thought to potentially signal a lower quality of health care. To instill confidence in the health system, a number of dental associations and practices issued bills of patient rights, educating patients with regards to what they should expect during dental treatment.

A decade later, patient rights issues continue to be relevant. One such issue is assuring today’s proactive patients that they will be informed of all the choices available to them in terms of their dental care – tooth restorations, for example, or dental implants, wisdom tooth extraction, orthodontics (braces), porcelain veneers, sedation, etc.

The dentist does the diagnosing and develops a treatment plan, but the contemporary patient expects to know what the options are and to have a say in the decision-making process. Considering the amount of money involved in restorative and cosmetic dentistry, it is important that patients are thoroughly aware of all potential treatment options so that they may select a solution that meets their unique criteria.