Dental Consent for Online Marketing – What to Include & What to Leave Out

You’ve probably heard of consumers having the right to refuse marketing offers from retailers. Well, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that right to refuse marketing is even more relevant. Why? Well, let’s examine the facts.

Why Is Consumer Consent Important?

It’s of vital importance for dentists to understand the basics of online marketing. After all, they’ll be the first line of defense against any online marketing schemes that target dental practices. Unfortunately, many dentists aren’t exactly sure what consumers expect when it comes to online marketing. Moreover, they may not realize the legal ramifications of some of the practices that online marketers employ. That’s why it’s important to discuss online marketing from a patient perspective. Let’s examine some of the key areas of concern.

What Should Be Included In Dental Consent?

When it comes to online marketing, patients need to know that their dentist is acting in their best interest. For instance, if you’re getting a free toothbrush with a meal at a chain restaurant, you may feel that it’s in your best interest to say yes. However, if you were told that the toothbrush would enable you to fight off tooth decay, you may have a valid complaint.

Consumers need to know that their dentist is acting in their best interest when it comes to online marketing. Accordingly, the following items should be included in the dental consent:

  • A discussion of what is considered ‘reasonable’ in terms of online marketing efforts. For example, is unsolicited email considered spam? How about online ads that appear to be focused on a health concern? What about pop-ups on a website that appear to be related to a dental procedure?
  • The name of the marketing company and the individual(s) responsible for the marketing activity. Examples include, but are not limited to: “Dentist Name, LLC”, “Dr. Name”, “Physician Name”, “Medical Practice Name”, etc.
  • An explanation of how, when, and why the patient’s dental information will be used.
  • How will personal identifiable information be handled? For example, if a marketing rep contacts the patient by phone, how will that contact be handled? Will the contact be considered ‘opt-in’ or ‘opt-out’?
  • If the patient is contacting the dentist by phone, what will happen if they have no idea what identity the person on the other end of the phone line is representing?
  • The name of the marketing company’s ‘parent’ company (if it has one). For example, if the marketing company is a subsidiary of a larger company, you may want to know who owns the subsidiary. This information should not be included in the consent if the marketing company is a separate legal entity.
  • How will the patient’s existing dental insurance coverage (if any) will be handled?
  • An explanation of how the patient can access their personal information (if they want to). For example, if the patient wants to review their account information for the dental practice, how can they do so?
  • The name of the company that will be handling financial transactions, such as bill payments and credit card processing. This information should not be included in the consent if the marketing company is a separate legal entity.
  • What role does the patient intend to play in the marketing activity (if any)? For example, if the patient wants to become a brand ambassador for the practice, they need to understand what that entails. Also, what would they need to do (beyond signing the consent)?
  • An explanation of the patient’s rights under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

While this may seem like a lot to include in one document, having all of this information on one page actually saves time, money, and reduces the chances of error. Moreover, you can have information handy for when the patient contacts the practice with questions about the marketing activity. Having all of this in one place also helps to create a seamless and transparent process.

What Should Not Be Included In Dental Consent?

Certain items should not be included in the dental consent if the patient does not want them included. For instance:

  • The patient’s Social Security number or HIPAA ID. These are considered ‘patient identifiers’ and should not be included in any documents associated with the practice, including the consent.
  • Credit card numbers, unless they’re already being used for the practice.
  • Personal health information, such as medical records or exam results. This information should not be included in the consent if it’s not necessary to determine what treatment the patient needs or to verify their identity.
  • Marketing offers from junk mail filters, such as those found on the ‘Do Not Contact’ list. The patient does not need to know that they have been placed on such a list.
  • Any information relating to an insurance policy other than the policy numbers, if the patient has one (i.e. the patient does not need to know the name of the insurance company).
  • Marketing offers from wireless service providers, such as mobile phones, tablet computers, and other similar devices. The patient does not need to know that they are being solicited by a wireless service provider.
  • Any information that is not necessary to determine whether or not the patient has a mental or physical impairment that would impact their ability to give valid consent.
  • Any personally identifiable information, other than that which is contained in the chart above, about any family members, other than the patient’s spouse.

If you’ve been contacted by a company that you think might be trying to scam your patients, here’s a trick for you. Ask for a copy of their privacy policy and read it carefully. If it doesn’t match up with what you’ve said in the consent, then it’s probably a bad guy.

Signature Legality

You need to make sure that you’re not violating any laws by including the patient’s signature on the consent. For example:

Under the California Dental Practice Act, patients can dictate the form that their dental consent must take. In particular, they can request that their signatures not be included, and that their information not be sold to marketers. If you’re a California dentist, you can find more information about the practice act here. Likewise, if your state dental license is found here, you can get more information about signinglegality here.

In short, there are several legal concerns that you need to be aware of, which is why it’s important to have a signed, written consent from each patient. This not only protects you from litigation, but it also provides evidence in the event that the patient does file a complaint. Moreover, it gives you the assurance that you’re not violating any laws by engaging in this type of activity. You can also find more information about HIPAA in general, and how it applies to your dental practice, in this informative blog post.