Written communication with patients

The way a practice communicates with patients through its website, marketing literature and other written information needs to make a positive impression.

Keeping patients informed

The information given to patients should help them make an informed decision and not be misleading. To make sure the patient remembers what you have told them, consider providing information leaflets they can refer to, or recommend useful websites as a resource.

The GDC requires dental professionals to give patients a written treatment plan before treatment begins, and ask them to sign it. The plan should include:

  • the proposed treatment
  • the estimated cost
  • which (if any) elements of the treatment will be provided under the NHS, and which privately.

If the treatment plan has to be revised, an amended plan should be issued in writing, including a cost estimate.

Practice literature

Practice written communication is likely to be read by many patients and potential patients. Make sure it is accurate, clear and not open to misinterpretation.

Clearly display the following information, ideally on the practice reception/waiting room notice board:

  • a list of dental fees
  • the members of the dental team (including their GDC registration number where appropriate)
  • the GDC's nine core ethical principles.

Review practice literature regularly to make sure it's up to date and meets GDC requirements. It's useful to have a designated person at your practice to check your website and written materials.

Promoting your practice

When promoting your practice, make sure the information is current and accurate, your GDC registration number is displayed and the language used is clear.

The GDC says practice websites should include the following:

  • the practice name and address, email address and telephone number
  • the GDC's contact details or a link to the GDC website
  • details of the complaints procedure and who patients can contact if they are not satisfied with the response
  • the date the website was last updated.

Under EU rules, websites should also show:

  • practitioners' qualifications
  • the country where they were awarded
  • their GDC registration number
  • details of the complaints procedure and who patients can contact if they are not satisfied with the response.

Avoid making any statements or claims in advertising material which could lead to unfulfilled expectations from patients.

Ethical advertising

Any written material intended for publication, including online, should be checked so that it meets relevant ethical and legal standards.

The GDC has its own guidance on advertising, which emphasises the need to adhere to standard 1.3.3 of its 'Standards for the dental team'.

Dental professionals are responsible for making sure any advertisement which mentions their name:

  • includes current and accurate information
  • includes their GDC registration number
  • uses clear language that patients are likely to understand
  • backs up claims with facts
  • avoids ambiguous statements, and
  • avoids claims which are intended or likely to create unjustified expectations about achievable results.

Specialist titles

The term 'specialist' should only be used to describe a dental professional who is on the relevant GDC specialist list. This also applies to titles that imply specialist status, such as endodontist, although terms such as 'experienced in...' or 'special interest in...' are acceptable.

Avoid comparisons and unsubstantiated claims, such as that your practice is 'the best' for whitening procedures. Other dental professionals may believe their practice has been denigrated by implication.

Dental professionals must also advertise in line with the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, which requires adverts to be 'legal, decent, honest and truthful'.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has the power to remove any advert, including online advertising, if found to contravene the Code and can refer persistent offenders to Trading Standards.

If you have any queries about the dento-legal aspects of advertising, contact the DDU.

The Committee of Advertising Practice can advise whether your advert complies with the CAP code.

This guidance was correct at publication 10/01/2020. It 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.

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