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Are dentists influenced by gifts and incentives?

24 April 2018
Expert opinion in Journal of Law and Medicine
Compared to the medical profession, there is less discussion and scrutiny of gift-giving and incentives, and their potential to influence the behaviour of dentists, argue two University of Sydney experts in the latest issue of the Journal of Law and Medicine.

Dr Alex Holden and Professor Heiko Spallek from the University’s Faculty of Dentistry argue that while there may be scenarios where dentists are conscious of influence and subsequent bias in their decision making, evidence suggests that many times, dentists may be unaware of such influence and bias.

They refer to this phenomenon as a “bias blind spot” in their piece published in the Journal of Law and Medicine.

Dental professionals have a duty to place patients first overtly and to provide care that is based upon solid evidence.
Dr Alex Holden and Professor Heiko Spallek, University of Sydney

They say influence and incentives come from three main sources: professional colleagues, patients, and industry, especially the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries.

On the subject of gift-giving, for example, The Dental Board of Australia says dental professionals may accept small gifts of, “minimal value such as flowers or chocolates.”

In the journal paper, Dr Holden and Professor Spallek say existing guidelines for managing conflicts of interest are insufficient, and that “there is little to be found in the way of a professional discussion about this issue within dentistry.

“Dental professionals have a duty to place patients first overtly and to provide care that is based upon solid evidence. Industry, both pharmaceutical and otherwise, has a role in supporting this and must scrutinise any practice which could call the profession’s integrity into question,” say the authors.

Dan Gaffney

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