How to Approach Informed Consent for Patients

When describing a treatment plan to a patient, informing the patient about potential risks is part of what informed consent is all about. Many physicians believe they do a pretty good job of laying out all the potential benefits and drawbacks of a treatment, but there is evidence to suggest they are not doing it as well as they could.

Surveys have shown that physicians are not as conscientious about delving into all of the possible drawbacks of a treatment if they really believe it will help a patient. Although physicians mean well, health experts caution that it is not an advisable course to follow, especially since it could compromise the autonomy of the patient in making an informed decision, as well as the legal ramifications it opens a physician to.

In talking about the potential risks of a treatment, how a physician says it is just as important as what he or she says. The physician needs to adopt a tone of empathy for what the patient is going through. Some medical experts suggest physicians start by asking the patient what they know about the treatment and risks associated with it as a starting point for informing them about the treatment. After the physician has explained the treatment and risk, he needs to make sure the patient understands it all.

Physicians also need to talk to patients about what the patient expects to gain from the treatment, so the physician can address any misapprehensions. Some also recommend saving the risk discussion until after the examination is complete, and the patient has had time to dress.

It is important that the physician take the time to talk with the patient about risks so that the patient has all the information he or she needs to do what he feels is in his own best interest. Some healthcare experts say that physicians need to cover five basic topics – the procedure, possible alternatives, benefits, risks, and complications.

It is impossible to cover all the risks that attend a particular treatment, so some healthcare experts advise the physician to focus on the material risks, which they define as those risks that have the greatest probability of actually occurring, as well as those that are most severe.

If the risks are considered to be more pronounced, a more detailed conversation about them is required, according to the healthcare experts, as well as when the patient has difficulty comprehending what the risks are.

Healthcare experts also recommend physicians record in the medical record what was covered in the informed consent conversation.

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