How to Address a Patient who Had an Interrupted Treatment Plan

An interesting article titled “Following up with a patient whose treatment has been interrupted” appears in the November 2014, JADA, and written by Michael H. Halasz. The article discusses a patient who received a complex treatment from a military dentist. The treatment started but because of deployment of a large number of troops in Iraq the treatment was interrupted so that the dentists could attend to other troops.

The article addresses if the patient was abandoned during this time. The American Dental Association Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Conduct states

“Once a dentist has undertaken a course of treatment, the dentist should not discontinue that treatment without giving the patient adequate notice and the opportunity to obtain the services of another dentist. Care should be taken that the patient’s oral health is not jeopardized in the process.”

The article states that if the dentist felt he was going to resume the treatment of the patient after handling the deployed troops, then he acted reasonably. However, one could also argue that since the dentist did not know how long he would be tied up with the other troops, he had an ethical obligation to inform the patient to have her treatment performed by another dentist. Even though having a period of time between treatment may not have been harmful to the patient, treatment was interrupted, and the option of referring the patient to another dentist should have been presented.

The article also raises the issue that a patient has a responsibility to participate in their treatment decisions. After a few months of not being treated it is said that the patient had some responsibility to call the office and ask about the status of her treatment.

The article ends by saying

“The dentist should have given the patient the option of receiving treatment elsewhere. At the same time, the patient needs to take responsibility for her own lack of action. A telephone call to the dental office could have given her the information she needed.”

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