Prior to having read some of assigned essays on informed consent, I believed it to be a relatively cut and dry issue. Many of the articles or videos that I have reviewed on informed consent seem for the most part repetitive. Informed consent is important—a good thing. Without policies that detail protocol doctors must follow in regards to their treatment of patients, who knows how a patient may be taken advantage of? After all “doctor knows best”; if the law does not stand to protect the rights of patient, who will? Should a patient be of sound mind and of age, they should be given full disclosure regarding the purpose of a medical procedure, the risks and benefits, probability of risk as well as alternatives to treatment (Brody, 283). I am not a doctor and thus am only able to see things from the patient’s side of the informed consent debate. It seems simple, really. For a physician to balk at the idea of thoroughly briefing and obtaining permission regarding what happens to their patients’ bodies is ridiculous, right?
If informed consent is so great, though, why do so many physicians see it in many cases as unnecessary or frivolous? In the process of searching for interesting essays or articles on informed consent from a physician’s perspective, I stumbled upon a brief opinion piece by John Kelly IV, an MD who is a regular writer for Outpatient Surgery Magazine. Although the opinion was humorous, I think it did a decent job of shedding light onto the ways in which informed consent may be good in theory, but not in practice. Two of the problems that he focuses on in particular are “nitpicking” and “catastrophizing” (Kelly). The consent form is a legal document and of course important; however, how explicit do they really need to be? It is one thing to list possible risks for a certain procedure—that is for the patient’s benefit. But how detailed does a doctor need to be in describing a surgery that is a part of their daily routine? Forcing doctors to stress and go back over every word in a consent form is a waste of time and if anything, could cause them to lose respect for and patience in the process of informed consent.
The major issue that doctors seem to be concerned about when it comes to informed consent based upon my and other students’ posts seems to be “catastrophizing”: the idea that being too explicit in the risks of procedures, some of which are incredibly low, can lead to discouraging patients to receive the treatment and care that is essential to their health (Kelly). How much information is too much?
I am not at all saying that the cons of informed consent outweigh autonomy, which is the moral issue at the center of the argument. I do, however, believe that there should be a movement to standardize policy across states to make the issue a little less hazy for all involved as well as help to maximize the use of doctors’ time. Solutions that I can think of include an official electronic database on which the risks of various standard procedures are outlined so that patients can clearly view the costs and benefits prior to giving consent. Another option would be to hire hospital staff or train current staff to specialize in patient relations; people who can to sit down with individuals and talk them through the risks and alternatives, as well as their doctor’s recommendations. I am not sure what other solutions have been proposed or initiated; but until a larger solution is settled upon, the autonomy of the patient will continue to trump physician convenience and efficiency, and rightly so.
Brody, Baruch A., and H. Tristram. Engelhardt. “Adult Patients: General Issues.” Bioethics: Readings Cases. Englewood Cliffs N.J: Prentice-Hall, 1987. 282-86. Print.
Kelly, John, IV. “Cutting Remarks: (Mis) Informed Consent.” Outpatient Surgery Magazine. N.p., Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014. <http://www.outpatientsurgery.net/outpatient-surgery-news-and-trends/humor-and-jokes/cutting-remarks-mis-informed-consent–02-14>.