John Chope column

John Chope turns to etymology to explain how to avoid the clutches of the GDC professional conduct procedures.

Are you feeling lucky? 

After reading a clutch of conduct cases being considered for investigation by the GDC recently, I came to the firm conclusion that the key to most of them was to be found in one word – ‘consent’ – or rather lack of it. Because all the work we do depends entirely on consent from our patients it occurred to me that most of us must be very lucky to escape from falling foul of the GDC conduct

‘Consent’ is a well understood word which we know means ‘agreement.’ Even more apt is the literal translation from its ancient Latin and old French roots – ‘common feeling.’ In other words, the parties involved are ‘at one’ with each other, sharing the same understanding and the same view.

Consent is so central to everything we do as practitioners that, not surprisingly, much business advice directed towards dentists focuses on how to obtain consent rapidly and remuneratively. You will be told that to become a successful practitioner you need to learn how to convince your patients of the benefits of some complex and costly treatment – preferably with an attractive profit margin.

Of course what we are talking about here is not consent at all – it is skilful (or not so skilful if the GDC gets to find out) manipulation. True consent does not involve you persuading your patients to accept your advice, rather it involves you developing a genuine empathy for your patients. In fact the literal translation of empathy, this time via its Greek and German roots, is ‘in feeling,’ referring to the ability to project yourself into the shoes of your patients so that you can understand completely how they are feeling and what help they need to make a decision for themselves.

It is perfectly clear that one of the key skills clinicians need to cultivate is effective communication, which we all know starts with listening. This is the way to develop empathy with and achieve consent from your patients. And if getting in touch with your patients’ feelings seems rather an effort, believe me, it is preferable to relying on luck to avoid a mention in the conduct cases column of the GDC Gazette.

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