Dental professionals often develop healthy, positive relationships with their patients. But what happens when one of the people in these relationships develops feelings that cross the line from service into something more? The Dental Defence Union (DDU) in the United Kingdom offers guidelines that dental professionals should mind for keeping these relationships focused on the mouth and not on the heart.
First, the DDU advises dentists and their staffs to always maintain clear, professional boundaries with all patients. Also, professionals should be wary of sharing too much information about their personal lives. Small talk may be a valuable part of the dental appointment, as it often puts patients at ease during uncomfortable treatment. But some patients may see such idle chatter as an interest in friendship or something more.
Next, social media is an essential part of every practice’s marketing strategy. Patients should be encouraged to follow your practice’s social media platforms to stay up to date with its latest news. However, you should not invite your patients to follow any personal accounts you may have on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere. Doing so would blur the lines between your professional relationships and your personal ones.
Sometimes, patients may do something in appropriate, such as sending you a Valentine’s Day card or gift, asking you on a date, or making suggestive comments. The DDU urges dental professionals not to ignore these situations, as that may be interpreted as consent. Instead, such patients should be politely but firmly asked to stop such behavior and reminded that their relationship is strictly professional.
Finally, the DDU says that professionals who find themselves in these situations should not face them alone. Colleagues can be a valuable source of support. For example, another member of the staff may be able to treat the patient instead, to prevent any further contact. If the patient persists in inappropriate behavior, law enforcement may need to get involved. Regardless of the situation, though, patient privacy laws regarding clinical information must be followed.
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