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Sep 18
The Decline of Public Trust

I was discouraged to read that on a list of most respected professionals, dentists are now in tenth place (Image below: Insights West 2017 online survey of a representative national sample.)

I remember that 40 years ago, we used to be in second place.

While there are some bad apples in every profession, the vast majority are unfailing professionals. So why the downward slide in public perception and what can we do about it?

I have been thinking and reading a lot about this. Factors such as dental advertising, easy access to online health information and ratings sites, and media coverage of scandals involving healthcare practitioners may have resulted in more skeptical, less trusting patients.

I believe that better-informed patients can reduce the hierarchy that is evident in any doctor-patient relationship – this is good. But when people consider themselves less as patients and more as consumers, we shouldn't be surprised when they become more cynical and less likely to believe that their dentist is truly working on their behalf. The public hears the market message about dentistry rather than the message of professionalism.

It is easy to blame outside forces. We, as dentists, have contributed to the decline of professionalism, most especially through the volume and content of advertising. If this market message continues to increase, trust will continue to be eroded.

So what can we do about it? We need to talk about ethics deliberately and regularly. If we can strive – through discussion and communication and education – to hold ourselves and our peers accountable for providing ethical and professional care, maybe we can reverse the trend and regain the reputation that we have lost.

I will be exploring this topic further at listening sessions this fall in Vancouver, Kelowna and Prince George. I hope you will join me.

Listening sessions will be held in Vancouver (25 September), Kelowna (19 October), and Prince George (15 November). Registration information is available here.

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