According to the Ontario Dental Association’s (ODA) most recent survey, one in 10 dental clinics charge for additional personal protective equipment (PPE) levied on patients as a result of extended COVID-19 precautions.
After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, dental services were limited to emergencies. But coupled with the clinics reopening in June, dental clinics were given the option to charge patients for enhanced PPE.
David Stevenson, former ODA president and chair of the return to practise working group, said even though patients are accustomed to seeing dentists wearing masks, gloves and eye protection, getting access to enhanced PPE during a pandemic was difficult.
“We do not have priority access to the government stockpiles of PPE,” Stevenson said. “Dentists have to find it and get it on their own. We’re using our traditional suppliers. There’s just not a lot of it to go around. Sometimes the cost of it can range from one day to the next, sometimes from one hour to the next.”
As a result of the scarce supply of PPE, the ODA implemented a fee guide for dentists across Ontario to use. A fee guide is a suggested range of prices that dentists can charge patients for PPE.
Stevenson said they do not give a fee schedule, meaning they do not inflict any specific charge, but give a range for dentists to choose from or not choose at all. Therefore, dentists can choose to charge patients for PPE within the guide set by the ODA or not charge them at all.
The ODA represents over 90 per cent of the dentists in Ontario, about 10,000 dentists in Ontario
Stevenson said the ODA’s responsibility is to provide their members with services, including adjudicating claims with insurance companies and providing a fee guide for their members.
There are many reasons as to whether a dental clinic will charge for enhanced PPE or not. Stevenson said sometimes it depends on where the dentist is located, how much acquiring PPE costs and other costs each individual clinic has to pay. Other reasons that are included in the equation include the amount of PPE each procedure requires.
However, even if dentists choose to absorb the extra PPE charge, Stevenson said this does not make one dentist better or kinder than the other one. It just according to their own specific situations, he added.
Stevenson said whether dentists charge for enhanced PPE or not, communication with patients is key.
“The patients just must be informed. They need to be informed why and how much they will be charged. I’ve been in practice for 35 years and we work really, really hard to build a sense of trust with our patients,” Stevenson said.
“It is imperative that we maintain that throughout this pandemic. So if there are additional costs, they have to be explained and clearly understood. I think patients would have no difficulty understanding the reasons for the specific circumstances involved.”