Pressure from the press

Dental professionals need to know how to respond when they get a call from a journalist, says John Makin.

Dentistry is one of the few professions where the consequences of a mistake or adverse incident can generate significant media coverage.

At the DDU, we regularly advise dental professionals who are alarmed to have been contacted by a journalist following an incident and worried about how they should respond. Specialist claimants’ solicitors now routinely send out a press release after a claim is settled, which can also result in media interest.

So, what should dental professionals do when they get ‘that call’ from a journalist? First and foremost, don’t panic. Journalists are obliged to give you the opportunity to respond, so it’s best not to ignore a request for a comment. Rather than responding there and then, take the journalist’s contact details, find out their deadline and tell them you’ll come back to them. It’s best to do this by email so that you have a record and can respond in a controlled way.

The next step is to contact your dental defence organisation for advice. The DDU, for instance, has a dedicated press office that can help you with a statement.

No comment

When dealing with the media, it’s important to remember that your priority is to your patients and your profession. You are legally and ethically bound to respect a patient’s confidentiality at all times. As a result, we often advise members to explain that they cannot comment because of their duty of confidentiality, which is preferable to saying ‘no comment’. If a patient has come to harm in some way, saying sorry for this is in line with your ethical duties and will help show the practice in a positive light.

Although dental professionals are usually unable to give their side of the story, no such constraints are placed on patients when making allegations or statements to the press, and media coverage can often seem very one-sided as a result. This can be frustrating, but you must remember that patient confidentiality comes first.

In addition, clashes between dental professionals and patients in the media can prolong or even worsen the situation, and may undermine the public’s confidence in you and your profession.

Above all, if you are contacted by a journalist for your side of the story, stay calm, stay professional and call your dental defence organisation for help.

Read more from John Makin

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