Evaluating the Efficacy of Surgical Consent

Evaluating the Efficacy of Surgical Consent
Carlos A. Delgado, Michelle R. McCullers, Scott W. Bloom
The American Surgeon, 15 March 2023
Patient autonomy is the most important of the core values of medical ethics, yet the process of obtaining surgical consent remains a lesser scrutinized area of modern surgical practice. Informed consent implies a patient’s understanding of nature of the operation, indications, risks, benefits, and alternatives. Surgical consent has traditionally been obtained through verbal communication and formalized by signing a legal document. This process oftentimes leaves patients unequipped with adequate knowledge about the procedure they just consented to. In most cases, it is simply impossible for the non-medically trained layperson to fully understand the nuances of surgery in a conversation. Some may argue a degree of paternalism may be inevitable; we believe there is room for improvement.
We chose to examine English-speaking adult patients undergoing common procedures (laparoscopic cholecystectomy, open inguinal hernia repair, and skin mass/soft tissue excision). We asked 71 patients to complete a free response survey on the risks, benefits, and alternatives to the operation they had just consented to. The patients were administered the survey either in the outpatient clinic or in the preoperative area.
Our analysis showed that most of our patients understand the inherent risks, benefits, and alternatives when being consented but that less than 50% of those consented were considered to have adequate understanding of the procedures they were consented for.
This study highlights key deficits and potential areas of improvement in the informed consent process. Based on the results, we have significant room for improvement and the responsibility to do so.

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