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Remembering to respect patients’ rights

11 July 2014
This case highlights the need never to gloss over confidentiality, even if the circumstances seem to suggest otherwise...

A junior dental officer in the defence forces had presented a case at a recent study day. It was an unusual case in a military setting that involved massive tooth erosion due to bulimia.

A senior officer asked whether the case in question involved a member of the Regiment and when told that this was so, he demanded to know the identity of the individual concerned as he felt that this condition could seriously undermine their operational effectiveness. The demand for this information was made in the form of an Order.

The junior officer was very distressed about this ethical dilemma; on the one hand there was a clear duty of professional confidentiality to the patient and on the other there were potentially serious consequences of disobeying the orders of a senior officer.

Eventually by mutual consent, Dental Protection was able to mediate between the two officers, both members of the same organisation. Interestingly enough, had the senior officer succeeded in persuading the junior officer to reveal the patient’s identity, and had the patient made a formal complaint about the breach of confidentiality in these circumstances, both officers could well have ended up answering to the registration body of the country in question.

Learning point:
Dentists have multiple accountability and patients have the same rights, irrespective of the clinical setting in which they happen to be treated.
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These case studies are based on real events and provided here as guidance. They do not constitute legal advice but are published to help members better understand how they might deal with certain situations. This is just one of the many benefits dental members enjoy as part of their subscription. 
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