Informed Consent and Surgery: Signing on the Dotted Line

| March 7, 2012 | 1 Comment

I recently purchased my first home. On the closing day, I signed what seemed to be ten thousand pages before I left. Honestly, many of them did not mean anything to me. When I purchased my first car ten years ago, I put my autograph on tons of foreign pages filled with information. I hate doing this.

But I know it is necessary to sign paperwork to help clarify contract terms, legal issues, rights, responsibilities, etc. In the hospital, patients sign a lot of documents everyday that they don’t fully read. They trust that those around them are having them sign for the right reasons.

I am definitely not a legal expert, but I do understand the purpose of the informed consent form you or your family must sign prior to surgery. It is to make sure that you are providing informed consent. It is a way to make sure that doctors actually talk to you prior to surgery and answer your questions.

So the informed consent form is a good thing because it reminds doctors to have a conversation with you. You should definitely take time to read over the forms prior to signing. And if there are parts of the consent form that you don’t fully understand, ask to speak with your surgeon or anesthesiologist.

If the situation is an emergency, though, we have to move and talk a little faster. In this type of environment, your surgeon and anesthesiologist will try to explain everything that’s happening and why emergency surgery is needed (if you are in a mental condition to comprehend what’s going on). If not, they will act in a way that a reasonable person would want (eg. a “reasonable” person would want a life/limb saving surgery to proceed). They would also contact next of kin as soon as possible.

“Informed Consent” is a term that is thrown around a lot in hospitals and among medical folks. So let’s break down what this actually means. Informed means that your physician has taken the time to explain to you the risks, benefits, complications and alternatives to the treatment they are recommending. He/she has then answered any questions you have so that you are as knowledgeable as possible when making your decision. Consent means that, after considering all this information, you agree to proceed with the stated procedure or treatment.

What all this implies is that the person in question can appropriately process all this information before making a decision. Sometimes, this is not the case. Parents make these decisions for their children all the time. We expect that parents will act in the best interest of their child. Also, a person may not be considered mentally capable of such decisions. This may be due to an ongoing medical condition or illness, or it might be an acute medical issue. In this case, the patient’s Power of Attorney or next of kin will give consent according to what they believe the patient would want.

Informed consent can become a bit tricky when we consider all the possible scenarios that play out in hospitals, surgery centers, and doctor’s offices. At its core, however, is the intention to protect the patient. Listen carefully when your doctor discusses this with you. And if you have questions or don’t fully understand something, don’t be afraid to ask! Most doctors appreciate patients that are actively involved and take ownership of their healthcare.

Signing all those forms can be annoying, overwhelming, or at the very least just a bit stressful. Remember they have been put in place to help ensure you know what’s going on with your body. Don’t be afraid to ask questions until you fully understand what is going on.

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Category: Day of surgery

Comments (1)

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  1. S Jones says:

    I wonder if it is not told to a patient that a sales rep will be in surgery if that isn’t hiding the truth so no informed consent. If I have to have joint repkacement surgery I do not want a sales rep in with me.

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