Informed consent and COVID-19: 5 things to know

Informed consent, considered dentists' first line of defense against professional liability claims, has become increasingly important during the COVID-19 pandemic for patients worried about contracting the disease.

Here are 5 things for dentists to know about informed consent amid the pandemic, according to California attorney Art Curley:

  • Informed consent forms let patients voluntarily agree to receive treatment with full knowledge of the possible risks and benefits.They should not be thought of as waivers, which require signatories to surrender some known right or privilege. Conflating informed consent forms with waivers could lead to dentists providing treatment that is below the standard of care.

  • Having a separate informed consent form specific to COVID-19 could provide patients with a false sense of security, so dentists should stick to offering patients the traditional form and having open dialogues.

  • Informed consent is more than getting patients to sign a form. It's critical that dentists have honest conversations with their patients about the treatment they're recommending, including all of the potential risks, complications, benefits and alternatives.

  • When talking to patients, dentists should make sure to explain all the infection control procedures they have implemented to protect their staff and patients from COVID-19. Dentists should also encourage patients to ask questions and document the discussion in the patient chart.

  • If a patient declines signing an informed consent form, dental staff should ask why. Patients who still refuse to sign the form, may need to be refused treatment.

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