A critical component before initiating any procedure relating to the treatment of patients is going over the risks and benefits of the procedure and obtaining the patient’s informed consent to perform the procedure. Meaningful informed consent is more than just obtaining a patient’s signature on a piece of paper. Physicians are bound to provide patients with detailed information about the risks, benefits, and alternatives, including the option of doing nothing, that the procedure will have on the patient’s health. This is a process that should include a dialogue with the patient, allowing the patient the opportunity to ask questions of the physician.
The vast majority of informed consent forms do not adequately address potential risks and benefits of procedures and as a result they leave physicians vulnerable to liability claims when a patient experiences an adverse result. Here are some tips to follow to create meaningful informed consent forms for your patients:
- Be Specific. Do not rely upon a generic consent form, but instead tailor your form to the procedure that is being performed.
- Be Understandable. Use plain language that patients can understand and explain any medical terms.
- Be Detailed. Your informed consent forms should include information such as the risks, benefits, and alternative treatment options.
- Be Upfront. While physicians are inherently confident in their abilities, always be upfront that a bad result might occur. You will not be sued for your successful procedures, but if an unexpected outcome occurs having disclosed that risk to the patient before the procedure can negate a claim that the patient was never informed of that risk.
- Be Timely. Unless you are dealing with an emergency situation, allow the patient sufficient time to weigh the risks and benefits of a procedure before signing the informed consent form. If a patient is simply handed a clipboard with the informed consent immediate before the procedure is performed there is a strong argument that the signature was not based upon an informed decision.
- Be Involved. Informed consent is a process. It is not simply an intake form that should be handled by clerical staff. You should sit down with your patient and family and discuss the procedure fully before the patient signs your informed consent form. Make sure that the patient understands what is involved and ask them to repeat the information back to you to make sure that they understand it.
If you haven’t sat down and reviewed your informed consent forms recently it is a necessary exercise that should be completed to make sure that you have meaningful informed consent forms that assist your patient in making important medical decisions and that protect you in the unlikely event of an adverse outcome.