People, in general, only want to be communicated with and to know the risks associated with any procedure—be it medical or not. Personally, I believe that doctors should communicate normal risks found with procedures. If there are rare, but life threatening risks, the doctor should mention them out of courtesy, but it should not be required of the doctors. However, I also believe that it is unrealistic for doctors to communicate all of the rare risks associated with said procedures. Patients should research the procedure or medication prior to consenting to it, this way the patient will be able to ask well thought out questions. Because this should be happening, it means that patients need to be aware of what the doctor suggests with plenty of time to research and become used to the idea. Lidz points out that often patients are not fully aware of the procedure and risks until the night before. Perhaps having a group of professionals at a hospital or health care center to fully explain risks and benefits to patients is what is needed. Instead of placing full responsibility on the doctor or nurses, maybe explanations need to be delegated to a special staff trained in communicating with patients.
Patients also need to understand that any medical procedure is unnatural and all procedures carry risks, some more serious than others. It is also important to keep in mind the possible benefits of medical procedures and to weigh the risks and benefits. Because this takes some experience, doctors should clearly explain and give their personal recommendation. Because patients generally do not understand medical terms, it is important for doctors to communicate in simple, everyday terms. This is a barrier that Lidz hints at, but never fully comes out and states. This barrier is one between the knowledge of doctors and the knowledge of patients.
In a way, failing to adequately inform patients of risks is comparable to the food industry failing to inform consumers about the genetically modified food which has been shown to cause health problems. I use this example because, similar to informed consent, it is a topic that is often overlooked. In general, people only want to be aware of risks associated with anything that goes into their body. It is when they unknowingly take medications with severe, common risks that they become reasonably upset.
An interesting blog, written by Dr. Bernstein, brings up the issue of informed consent of “the level of resident participation.” Most patients consent to having a resident on the team during surgery, but often are unaware of how involved the resident is. According to the statistics found in the blog, “consent rates decreased from 94.0% to 18.2% as the level of resident participation increased.” Again, communication between doctors and patients is key to a well working environment to benefit everyone the most.
In conclusion, informed consent has evolved a great deal in the last century. However, there is still room for improvement.
M. Bernstein. (2013, September 16). Patient Informed Consent for the Teaching Hospital “Trainee” Care: Informing Realistic Scenarios. Retrieved from: http://bioethicsdiscussion.blogspot.com/2013/09/patient-informed-consent-for-teaching.html
Lidz, C. W., Meisel, A., Osterweis, M., Holden, J. L., Marx, J. H., Munetz, M. R. Barriers To Informed Consent. In S. Holland, Arguing about Bioethics (299-307). New York: Routledge.