We eat, breathe and sleep the need to obtain informed consent from our patients. It is the basis of ethics as well as legal protection. However, how many of us are truly getting informed consent? (And I don’t mean the signed sheet of paper!)
In dental school, I was trained to not only provide my patients with every treatment option, but also to describe each option in detail. The longer I practice dentistry, though, the more I see an underlying flaw in this approach. The problem is more pronounced now that everyone is wearing masks and we tend to focus more on the eyes. You can actually see them glaze over when we talk about the clinical details of various treatments.
Is it wrong to think that describing treatment details has value to patients who are trying to make a decision? What background or knowledge do we expect them to have to make a truly informed choice about whether to have a root canal or a tooth removed?
What a dentist considers the most rational explanation for a given treatment often sounds like nonsense to patients. That’s because of the difference in perspective, experience and knowledge of dentistry. Patients can easily understand, though, whether they simply want to keep a tooth or be done with it.
After listening to their options, patients usually ask, "What would you recommend?" Even though you’ve just provided a detailed explanation, it just doesn’t resonate. All options sound complicated, making it difficult for patients to make a choice. I argue the problem lies in how we approach the conversation and how the options are commonly presented.