General practice dentists in Australia usually undertake any diagnostic tests within the confines of their clinic and the results are immediately relayed to the patient. Simple vitality testing, percussion tests and intra-oral radiographs are usually sufficient for immediate diagnosis and treatment planning. Occasionally there is a need for further investigations, such as an orthopantomogram or cone-beam CT and conveying these results to patients should be done in a timely manner. When dentists order a test it is their responsibility to ensure that the result, with interpretation, is directly communicated to the patient.

Of concern is our professional responsibility when referring patients for further specialist investigation and care, particularly for the management of a potentially malignant oral lesion. On the one hand, there can be a failure in thoroughly examining patients and not recognising abnormalities. However, this can be greatly compounded if there is a lack of communication, emphasising the importance of the recommended referral and following up to ensure the patients proceed with our recommendations. Simple procedures for referral, communication with the specialist practice and documenting communication should not delay diagnosis which could adversely affect the outcome for the patient.

Michael McCullough

Chair, Therapeutics Committee, Australian Dental Association