073: Improving Consent with a Visual Tool for Communicating Surgical Risks

073: Improving Consent with a Visual Tool for Communicating Surgical Risks
SJ Tingle, JK Ramsingh, RD Bliss, PP Truran
British Journal of Surgery, 27 April 2021; Volume 108(Supplement 1)
Patients must understand the risks of a procedure to provide valid consent. Guidance from the General Medical Council and Royal College of Surgeons of England highlights that surgeons need to communicate risks in a way that patients can understand, and both institutions specifically mention the use of written information. We aimed to improve communication of surgical risks to patients undergoing thyroid surgery.
Over 3 months, all patients undergoing thyroid surgery in a tertiary referral centre were included (n=51). Participants were given a 10 point questionnaire after the consent process. Each question had 4 options (very common, common, uncommon and rare) and tested participant understanding of surgical risks. Our intervention was a single page annotated graphic, which used a traffic-light system to explain surgical risks.
When consented prior to our intervention (n=28), patient understanding of the magnitude of surgical risks was poor; median questionnaire score was 4.5 out of 10, and for some questions <15% of participants selected the correct answer. Following introduction of our surgical risk tool (n=23) median overall participant score increased from 4.5 (range 2-7) to 8.0 (4-10) out of 10 (P<0.0001; Mann-Whitney U test).
Patients must understand the risks of an operation, and the magnitude of those risks, in order to provide valid consent. Addition of a visual surgical risk tool enabled us to increase patient understanding of surgical risks, improving the consent process. This has implications not just for thyroid surgery, but for any procedure requiring consent.
Take-home message
Clear communication of surgical risks is essential to obtain valid consent. The use of a visual surgical risk tool increases patient understanding of risks, and therefore improves the consent process.

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