Daniel Schulte addresses whether dentists can refuse treatment to patients suspected of using marijuana in the latest issue of The Journal of the Michigan Dental Association (October 2022).
Question: We have patients who have come to the office for scheduled appointments reeking of marijuana. Sometimes a patient appears to be presently under the influence, other times not. I have staff who are very sensitive to the smell, and physically react adversely to it. Some refuse to see these patients at all. Others are concerned that when they do so they lose focus and concentration and are prone to mistakes. I, too, have been made nauseous by the smell and have had a sever headache after seeing these patients. Should I be concerned that patients may be under the influence? Do I have to treat patients who reek of marijuana and who make my staff and I uncomfortable or sick?
Answer: Before proceeding with any treatment, you must determine whether the patient is under the influence such that they are incapable of providing informed consent. This may be a difficult determination to make, having nothing to go on but the patient’s present appearance and smell. Because it is so difficult to ascertain, the best practice would be to avoid making judgements regarding whether a patient is under the influence and/or how “high” the patient currently is. Instead you should inform your patients that if due to their odor or for other reasons you suspect that they have been using marijuana and that you will refuse to treat them.
Similarly, the best practice is to refuse treatment if the patient’s marijuana odor makes you or your staff incapable of providing treatment in accordance with the standard of care. This is the likely result of proceeding with treatment while feeling nauseous, having a headache, and/or working with staff not having the required focus and concentration this is necessary.
Read the complete Q&A in the Journal of the Michigan Dental Association on page 20.
About the author:
Daniel J. Schulte has more than 25 years of experience helping clients solve tough problems and capitalize on opportunities that require a blend of business and legal expertise. His practice focuses on addressing the legal, business, licensing, and regulatory challenges of health care professionals, organizations, and facilities. Dan understands how legal issues impact business objectives and, as a result, offers his clients practical, results-oriented advice. He is a Certified Public Accountant, former managing partner and current executive committee member of the firm. Dan also serves as co-chair of the firm’s Health Care Practice Group.
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