Information, information, information

A star-rating system would be a win-win for patients and dentists, says Dr Simon Hocken

Two facts are transforming dentistry: exposure of failure and bad performance is increasing and service users are getting more consumerist in their outlook. 

Reliable and accessible information is the key to making patients happy and GDC chair Bill Moyes has made a convincing case for progress in this area.

In a lecture on June 12 he said he expects the increasing volume of patient complaints – 17 per cent of the profession are now the subject of one – will continue until progress is made.

Mr Moyes believes the rising tide of complaints can be turned if patients are able to choose where and how they are treated based on reliable and easily understood information about issues such as quality of service, appropriateness and effectiveness of clinical treatment and likely cost.

Not only does enabling potential service users to avoid weak practitioners before damage is done benefit the patient, it’s cheaper than prosecuting a fitness to practice case after the event.

Mr Moyes cited research showing patients want dentists to have star ratings so they can make decisions based on reliable information.

CPD standards are patchy and so it seems a system of accreditation might incentivise dentists to invest in quality training if it was reflected in such a star rating. Not all dentists have good knowledge of the standards expected of them by regulators and so the star rating could also reflect any past and present disciplinary issues with the GDC and CQC.

As it is, the only way for patients to check the safety, skill and integrity of a dentist is to ask friends or look for patient feedback which will no doubt be sprawled across the practice website, Google+, social media and news sites such as MailOnline. This state of affairs is hardly in the best interest of dentists who want to communicate their credentials and patient satisfaction record on a level playing field.

There are all sorts of ways this could be done to safeguard impartiality and protect against abuses. Patient feedback, for example, could form a portion of a dentist’s and a practice’s overall star rating in real time providing reliable, up to date, comparable information in one place.

Interestingly, patients assume regulation is more extensive and proactive than it really is and assume practices are subjected to mystery shops. It feels like information can fill the gap here – again, the idea is patients would be less likely to enter into a bad experience and so less likely to complain once they have all the facts.

Demand for dentistry is rising and tackling the rise in complaints is to make the most of this blessing, which is why the BDA’s stance is so baffling. It has issued a testy press release chastising Mr Moyes for straying beyond his brief into the activities of “other bodies properly charged with those responsibilities”. The GDC’s work, it trilled, “should be to address how it manages its core function of protecting patients before extending into areas that are not its responsibility.”

Unfortunately the BDA seems to have forgotten that standing up for the consumer is why the GDC was created. It’s job is to enforce standards of clinical safety and enforce the rule of law that protects all consumers, specifically the right to clear and accurate information on the products and services they are buying. 

It’s more difficult to do this in dentistry than many other industries and Mr Moyes’ call for the professional bodies to pool intelligence and identify areas for research isn’t a bad start.

As he says, fitness to practice should not be the main means of tackling underperformance and patient dissatisfaction. Information should be. In all other service industries it already is and dentistry has to play catch up.

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