Making Informed Consent An Informed Choice

In her Health Affairs Blog post last fall, Sharon Brownlee lamented how frequently patients agree to treatments that they know little about. In the United States and elsewhere, clinicians have a clear ethical and legal responsibility to obtain informed consent for tests, treatments, and procedures. Too often, however, clinicians fail to describe risks adequately or to present alternatives. This meets neither the letter nor the spirit of the law; yet as long as there is a signature on a form, the adequacy of informed consent is rarely questioned. 

Brownlee largely laid the blame at the feet of clinicians who do not convey the information effectively. It is true that clinicians do not always make themselves understood. Thirty percent of adults report that they do not always find their providers easy to understand, and more than 70 percent of adults report that their health care providers do not always check their understanding of instructions. Clinicians, however, cannot fulfill their responsibilities for informed consent without the support of systems they work in. 

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