The importance of confidentiality
The relationship between dentist and patient is based on the understanding that any information revealed by the patient to the dentist will not be divulged without the patient's consent. Patients have the right to privacy and it is vital that they give the dentist full information on their state of health to ensure that treatment is carried out safely. The intensely personal nature of health information means that many patients would be reluctant to provide the dentist with information if they were not sure that it would not be passed on. If confidentiality is breached, the dentist/dental hygienist/dental therapist/dental nurse faces investigation by the General Dental Council and possible erasure from the Dentists or DCP Register, and may also face legal action by the patient for damages and, for dentists, prosecution for breach of the 1998 Data Protection Act.
General Dental Council
All staff must follow the General Dental Council's rules for maintaining patient confidentiality contained in Standards for dental professionals and Principles of patient confidentiality.
If confidentiality is breached, each registered dental professional involved is responsible to the Council for their individual conduct.
Principles of confidentiality
This practice has adopted the following three principles of confidentiality:
Personal information about a patient:
- is confidential in respect of that patient and to those providing the patient with health care
- should only be disclosed to those who would be unable to provide effective care and treatment without that information (the need-to-know concept), and
- such information should not be disclosed to third parties without the consent of the patient except in certain specific circumstances described in this policy.
Data protection code of practice
The Practice's Data protection code of practice provides the required procedures to ensure that we comply with the 1998 Data Protection Act. It is a condition of engagement that everyone at the practice complies with the code of practice.
Access to records
Patients have the right of access to their health records held on paper or on computer. A request from a patient to see records or for a copy must be referred to the patient's dentist. The patient should be given the opportunity of coming into the practice to discuss the records and will then be given a photocopy or print-out. Care should be taken to ensure that the individual seeking access is the patient in question and where necessary the practice will seek information from the patient to confirm identity. The copy of the record must be supplied within forty days of payment of the fee and receipt of identifying information if this is requested.
Access may be obtained by making a request in writing and the payment of a fee for access of up to £10 (for records held on computer) or £50 (for those held manually or for computer-held records with non-computer radiographs). A copy of the record will be provided within 40 days of the request and fee (where payable) together with an explanation, if required.
The fact that patients have the right of access to their records makes it essential that information is properly recorded. Records must be:
- contemporaneous and dated
- accurate and comprehensive
- signed by the dentist
- neat, legible and written in ink
- strictly necessary for the purpose
- not derogatory
- such that disclosure to the patient would be unproblematic.