Dental patients don't often approach the media when they have a complaint but despite it being uncommon, it does still happen - so it's important to know how to handle the situation appropriately and professionally if you are contacted by a journalist.
When might you have to deal with the media?
A patient has gone directly to the press
Patients might approach the media if something went wrong with their treatment, and you could be asked for your side of the story.
You are facing court/GDC proceedings
If you're involved in a legal case with a high enough profile, you could end up in the public eye as a result. Some types of cases - for example, those concerning alleged sexual misconduct or dishonesty - may attract more attention than others.
You have a high profile or celebrity patient
If your patient has a noted public profile or status, the media may be interested in you by association. A patient's right to confidentiality must be respected at all times, regardless of who they are.
Your patient is the subject of a media article or documentary
You still have responsibilities and obligations to your patient even if they have agreed to give personal information to the media themselves.
What are your priorities?
When dealing with the media, it's important to remember that your priority is to your patients and your profession.
The GDC advises in 'Standards for the Dental Team' that you must "Protect the confidentiality of patients' information and only use it for the purpose for which it was given" (Standard 4.2).
You are legally and ethically bound to respect a patient's confidentiality at all times. Because of this, dental professionals are usually unable to give their side of the story to the media.
No such constraints are placed on patients when making allegations or statements to the press, and media coverage can often seem very one-sided as a result. This can be frustrating, but you must remember that patient confidentiality comes first.
However, if you do think something written about you isn't correct, our quick guide to correcting misleading information in the media could help.
'Standards for the Dental Team' states that all GDC registrants should "Be honest and act with integrity" (Standard 1.3) and "Put patients' interests before your own or those of any colleague, business or organisation" (Standard 1.7). Keep this in mind when considering how you might interact with the press.
Clashes between dental professionals and patients in the media can prolong or even worsen the situation, and may undermine the public's confidence in you and your profession.
The same principles also apply to social media - another avenue where you may come into contact with the press or media.
You can read our quick guide to proper social media use here.
What to do if you're approached by the media
If you are approached by the media for any reason, you may find it helpful to follow some basic rules.
Get the journalist's details
Ask who they are and who they work for, and ask for a phone number so you can contact them in your own time.
Contact the DDU press office
We can help with preparing a response, and may be able to liaise with the press on your behalf. You can find our press team's contact details here.
Call them back
Journalists can be persistent and are unlikely to go away if you ignore them, so it's advisable to be in contact - even if it's just to say you can't comment because of your duty of confidentiality.
Always treat journalists as 'on the record'
Be careful what you say, as any comments you make could still be used.
Remember, it's possible to inadvertently confirm something by denial or omission. Even something as simple as confirming that someone is a patient may breach your legal and ethical obligations.
As well as your comments, the press may want to take your picture to accompany their story.
Don't 'cover up'
Let them take their photo and the photographer will usually leave. Hiding your face or turning away from the camera may also give the impression that you've got something to hide.
Remember patient confidentiality is key
This must be respected by journalists and photographers as well as dental professionals (for example, if the media arrive at your practice).
Make sure photographers aren't being obstructive
Photographers are legally allowed to take pictures on the public highway, but you should make sure patients can't be identified and patient access isn't obstructed.
Making a statement
It's best to keep your communication with the press to a minimum. This will help maintain your professionalism as well as your duties to patients.
If you do need to make a statement - for example, if a case against you has concluded in your favour - the DDU's press office can help you draft a suitable response.
Alternatively, call the DDU's dento-legal helpline and speak to one of our advisers. Contact us here.
This page was correct at publication on 02/03/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.