Informed or misinformed consent and use of modified texture diets in dysphagia

Informed or misinformed consent and use of modified texture diets in dysphagia
Shaun T. O’Keeffe, Paula Leslie, Tracy Lazenby-Paterson, Arlene McCurtin, Lindsey Collins, Aoife Murray, Alison Smith, Siofra Mulkerrin
BMC Medical Ethics, 7 February 2023; 24(7)
Open Access
Use of modified texture diets—thickening of liquids and modifying the texture of foods—in the hope of preventing aspiration, pneumonia and choking, has become central to the current management of dysphagia. The effectiveness of this intervention has been questioned. We examine requirements for a valid informed consent process for this approach and whether the need for informed consent for this treatment is always understood or applied by practitioners.
Main text
Valid informed consent requires provision of accurate and balanced information, and that agreement is given freely by someone who knows they have a choice. Current evidence, including surveys of practitioners and patients in different settings, suggests that practice in this area is often inadequate. This may be due to patients’ communication difficulties but also poor communication—and no real attempt to obtain consent—by practitioners before people are ‘put on’ modified texture diets. Even where discussion occurs, recommendations may be influenced by professional misconceptions about the efficacy of this treatment, which in turn may poison the well for the informed consent process. Patients cannot make appropriate decisions for themselves if the information provided is flawed and unbalanced. The voluntariness of patients’ decisions is also questionable if they are told ‘you must’, when ‘you might consider’ is more appropriate. Where the decision-making capacity of patients is in question, inappropriate judgements and recommendations may be made by substitute decision makers and courts unless based on accurate information.
Research is required to examine the informed consent processes in different settings, but there is ample reason to suggest that current practice in this area is suboptimal. Staff need to reflect on their current practice regarding use of modified texture diets with an awareness of the current evidence and through the ‘lens’ of informed consent. Education is required for staff to clarify the importance of, and requirements for, valid informed consent and for decision making that reflects people’s preferences and values.

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