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Informed consent in oral health care

NM Tsotsi
MJ Rudolph


Background: Informed consent and autonomy are the major ethical principles that define the relationship between health workers and the patient. A patient should be given adequate information on the risks and benefits of treatment to be undertaken and also alternative treatment options.

Objectives: To investigate what and how much information dental patients perceived to had been given by oral health workers about treatment, benefits, risks and management alternatives in order to take decisions and give informed consent about their treatment.

Design: Cross sectional descriptive survey.

Setting: The study was conducted at Ann Latsky Nursing College, Johannesburg.

Subjects: The sample size consisted of 173 student nurses in their first, second and third years of training. Only students who had treatment in the previous three years were included in the study.

Results: The majority of the students were treated in the private sector (85.0%) by male oral health workers (61.6%) and dentists (89.5%) as opposed to dental therapists or oral hygienists. The study indicated that the majority of the respondents (75.6%) were given information about the treatment to be undertaken. The information appeared to have pertained to costs, pain, chances of success and duration of treatment. One hundred (74.07%) gave verbal consent and (16.30%) gave both verbal and written consent. Only 37.79% of the respondents were told of alternative options available, 47.17% of the benefits, and 38.6% of the risks of treatment.

Conclusion: These findings have ethical implications for oral health workers. There is an urgent need to sensitise oral health workers on the specifics of informed consent.

East African Medical Journal Vol.82(4) 2005: 216-219