Improving Surgical Informed Consent, Unanswered Questions

Improving Surgical Informed Consent, Unanswered Questions
Review Article
Raper, Steven E., Clapp, Justin T., Lee A.
Annals of Surgery, March 2021; 2(1)
This study reviews randomized clinical trials that have attempted to improve the process of informed consent. Consent should be guided by the ethical imperatives of autonomy, beneficence, and social justice.
Summary Background
Informed consent is constantly evolving. Yet our review of the randomized trials done to improve the surgical informed consent process raises a number of questions: How does one define surgical informed consent? What interventions have been tried to measure and improve informed consent? Have the interventions in informed consent actually led to improvements? What efforts have been made to improve informed consent? And what steps can be taken to improve the process further?
A literature search for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) on informed consent identified 70 trials. Demographics, interventions, assessments, and a semi-quantitative summary of the findings were tabulated. The assessments done in the RCTs, show the surrogate for patient autonomy was comprehension; for beneficence, satisfaction and mental state (anxiety or depression); and, for social justice, language, literacy, learning needs, and cost.
There were 4 basic categories of interventions: printed matter; non-interactive audiovisual tools; interactive multimedia; and a smaller group defying easy description. Improvement was documented in 46 of the 65 trials that studied comprehension. Thirteen of 33 trials showed improved satisfaction. Three of 30 studies showed an increase in anxiety. Few studies tried to assess primary language or literacy, and none looked at learning needs or cost.
No single study improved all 3 principles of informed consent. Validated interventions and assessments were associated with greater impact on outcomes. All 3 ethical principles should be assessed; autonomy (as comprehension), beneficence (as satisfaction, anxiety), and social justice. Not enough consideration has been given to social justice; appropriate language translation, standardized reading levels, assessment of learning needs, and cost to the individual are all important elements worthy of future study.

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