Having a patient fill out a consent form for endodontic treatment seems like a no-brainer at first. But on a busy day in the office, with back-to-back patients, it can be easy to skip past time-sucking formalities like consent forms.
But performing an endodontic treatment without informed consent isn’t just bad for your patients—it can mean legal trouble for your office. Believe it or not, lack of informed consent prior to treatment is one of the primary elements in the majority of malpractice suits. Basically, plaintiffs claim that they did not fully understand the risks of undergoing a certain treatment, and that they didn’t have adequate information about alternative treatment options.
How do you avoid a legal nightmare for your practice? Always make sure that your patients are fully informed—and that you have the legal documentation to back it up.
What Is Informed Consent?
A consent form for endodontic treatment is a key part of obtaining informed consent from your patients. At its core, informed consent reflects the basic ethics of medical practice. Every human being has the legal and ethical right to decide what happens to their body. Likewise, it’s the medical professional’s responsibility to involve the patient in their own healthcare.
According to Spear Education, there are seven main conditions necessary for informed consent. Either the patient or their legal guardian must meet these conditions:
- The patient must be competent to understand what is presented.
- The patient must voluntarily make the decision, not under any kind of coercion.
- Material information – that which is essential to making a wise decision – must be fully disclosed.
- The plan for treatment must be clear.
- The patient must adequately comprehend material information and the plan.
- The patient must clearly make a decision to proceed with the plan.
- The treatment plan must be authorized by the patient.
If conditions 1-5 are met, but the patient decides not to proceed with the plan, you have informed refusal.
Guaranteeing Informed Consent
The easiest way to obtain consent from patients is to make sure that every single one of your patients completes a consent form for endodontic treatment. But here’s the tricky part: Just because a patient completes that form doesn’t mean that they’ve given informed consent.
According to the University of Washington School of Medicine, informed consent should include a discussion of the following topics:
- The nature of the decision/procedure
- Reasonable alternatives to the proposed intervention
- The relevant risks, benefits, and uncertainties related to each alternative
- Assessment of patient understanding
- The acceptance of the intervention by the patient
A form can outline these points, but no office form can replace a thorough discussion with a medical professional. As we all know, patients don’t always read forms thoroughly! And legally, a patient signing a consent form isn’t informed consent—it’s simple, or basic, consent.
Because of this, it’s best to go over the consent form for endodontic treatment with your patient as part of a more involved discussion, rather than to just have them sign it in the waiting room.
Discussing Consent With Your Patient
Your conversation with your patient about their consent is an integral part of the process. Make it clear to your patient that they aren’t simply completing a formality—they’re participating in an important decision about their health.
Remember as well that as a medical practitioner, you play an active role in obtaining informed consent. Basically, you’re required to give a recommendation for treatment to the patient, along with a clear explanation of your reasons for that recommendation. Making sure that the patient understands the information you’re giving them is just as—if not more—important than the information itself. So, try to use terms the average person would understand, and make sure to let your patient know they can ask you any questions they might have.
Lastly, you should always explain to your patient the risks and complications associated with a recommended procedure. Even if the chance of risk is minuscule, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
To wrap up, there are two main steps in obtaining legally sound informed consent from your patient: Having them complete a form, and engaging in a thorough discussion. It can be challenging to know what to include on a consent form for endodontic treatment, so I’m sharing mine with you here!
I created this form to use in my own practice, but you can download and personalize it however you see fit. If you’re thinking it’s a little long, you’re probably right—I wanted to be thorough! Plus, if you’re talking through the options with your patient, following the points on the form leads to a truly informed decision on behalf of your patient.
I hope that this information gives you the peace of mind to treat your patients to the best of your ability—and to prevent any legal woes from befalling your practice!