You probably wouldn't associate passionate feelings with the dental chair. But sometimes patients can misinterpret a dental professional's behaviour and try to turn a purely professional relationship into a romantic one.
With Valentine's Day approaching, it may prompt someone with amorous feelings to make an approach. How can you avoid this happening to you and if it does, how should you deal with it?
Maintain clear, professional boundaries
The best way to avoid becoming the object of a patient's affections is to make sure you maintain clear, professional boundaries with all of your patients and be wary of sharing too much information about your personal life. You may see it as you are just making small talk when you tell a patient where you are off to on holiday, but they may see this as the start of a friendship.
Avoid adding patients as friends on Facebook
Social media has blurred the boundaries between the professional and the personal, which can get dental professionals into tricky situations. You may have a personal Facebook account which you also use to keep up to date on the latest dental news via dental Facebook groups, as well as to keep in touch with your friends and family. But the DDU advises that you avoid connecting with patients on your personal social media accounts.
If you do wish to communicate information about your practice to your patients via social media, consider setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account specifically for your practice.
Dealing with inappropriate behaviour
If a patient behaves inappropriately, by sending you a Valentine's Day card or gift, for example, or by making suggestive comments or asking you on a date, it is important not to ignore the situation as they may not realise that you object. Instead, politely but firmly ask them to stop, making it clear that the relationship is strictly professional. It is important to always keep a record of this discussion.
Although the patient may be embarrassed about the situation, in the majority of cases they will understand and not contact you in anything other than a professional capacity again.
Don't deal with it alone
It is important not to deal with these situations alone. You may wish to share the problem with your colleagues, who could be a valuable source of support. If you feel uncomfortable continuing to see the patient, consider asking a colleague to see the patient instead. Bear in mind, however, that you may still need to treat the patient if an emergency arises.
If you ever feel your safety or that of others is at risk then consider involving the police in the matter. If this becomes necessary, be mindful of confidentiality and make sure you do not divulge any confidential clinical information without the patient's consent, unless this would be justifiable in the public interest.
You may also wish to contact our advice line. You certainly won't be the first person to contact us about this issue and we can guide you through your options and advise you on how to deal with the situation you face.
This guidance was correct at publication 23/01/2018. 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.