Improving informed consent by enhancing the role of nurses

Improving informed consent by enhancing the role of nurses
Research Article
Daniel A Wilkenfeld, Grace Campbell
Nursing Ethics, 28 October 2020
From a legal perspective, before a physician engages in a serious medical intervention they must obtain informed consent. In this paper, we argue that there are serious deficits in our processes of obtaining informed consent; it is often seen as just a bureaucratic hurdle, and people agree to interventions without being in an appropriate epistemic state. We explore some possible reasons for this, including ignorance, trust in physicians’ authority, and the minimal time physicians spend with patients. We trace many of these issues to one central cause, which is that in the United States obtaining informed consent is the purview of physicians. We argue that a simple shift in how we obtain informed consent can help to ameliorate these issues. Specifically, we argue that obtaining informed consent should be the responsibility of nurses rather than physicians. While there are several reasons for this, the central ideas are that (1) since nurses are the ones who know the patient, they will be in better position to tell when patients are genuinely informed, and (2) patients will be more comfortable asking questions and admitting ignorance to nurses rather than physicians. While we focus on US law, our conclusions are more broadly applicable.

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