Talking to a patient about informed consent for endodontic treatment or walking them through filling out a consent form may seem like a total no-brainer. But on a busy day in the office, with back-to-back patients? Well, it can be really easy to totally skip over those kinds of time-sucking formalities.
But informed consent really, really matters!
In fact, performing an endodontic treatment without informed consent isn’t just bad for your patients—it can mean legal trouble for your office (along with other practices that are commonly overlooked—like rubber dams).
Believe it or not, lack of informed consent prior for endodontic treatment is one of the primary accusations in the majority of malpractice suits. Which means that the 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.
Talk about a legal nightmare. Always making sure that your patients are fully informed—and that you have the legal documentation to back it up—is important for EVERYONE.
Let’s talk through both why informed consent matters and how to get it every time.
What Is Informed Consent for Endodontic Treatment?
In dental offices, most of us think of informed consent through the lens of a consent form—which is the primary way we confirm that our patients are obtaining all the information necessary to make smart decisions for their health. But in practice, informed consent goes much deeper.
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. In turn, 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 to happen effectively. 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 most important thing to keep in mind: Just because a patient completes a 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 stock form can replace a thorough discussion with a medical professional.
As anyone who has spent time in this profession knows, patients don’t always read forms very thoroughly. And they often need to be walked through the vocabulary and finer points of each procedure. They need to have expectations set appropriately for them.
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.
That’s best practice and ensures that your patient fully understands what they are agreeing to. After all, we want to make sure our patients are empowered!
Discussing Informed Consent for Endodontic Treatment With Your Patient
Your conversation with your patient about their consent isn’t a part of the process to be treated lightly. In fact, it is integral, important, and helps them develop greater confidence in you as a clinician.
Make it clear to your patient that this isn’t simply a formality—that they are participating in an important decision regarding their health and their questions and concerns are extremely important.
Never forget that as a medical practitioner, you have an active role to play in obtaining informed consent. You’re being asked to give a recommendation for treatment, along with a clear explanation of why it is necessary, while making sure the patient understands the information you’re providing and getting all their questions answered.
Because genuine understanding is the foundation of real informed consent, make sure that you use terms that the average person would understand. And make sure to let your patient know that you are ready and willing to answer any questions they might have.
Make sure you allow ample time to explain any and all risks and potential complications associated with a recommended procedure. Even if the chance of risk is minuscule—it’s always better to be safe than sorry!
To make it simple, remember there are two main steps in obtaining legally sound informed consent for endodontic treatment:
- Have a thorough conversation about diagnosis and treatment with your patient.
- And have them complete an informed consent form.
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—but I wanted to be thorough (like I said—it is always better to be safe than sorry)! Plus, if you’re talking through the options with your patient, following the points on the form leads to a truly informed decision on your patient’s end.
This practice is so, so important! So I hope this information helps you cover all your bases and take the best possible care of your patients.
Now download the consent form and get out there and save some teeth!
Let me know your commitment to downloading and using the form in the comments below.