Contributor: Michael Zhen-Yu Tong, MD
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Not so long ago, informed consent meant that a physician simply explained to his or her patient what a reasonable person would want to know about a procedure.
The physician — or sometimes a nurse — would tell a patient what the surgery was and then hand him or her a piece of paper to sign. There really was no discussion.
Today, informed consent is so much more. It still gives a physician the opportunity to talk to patients about what will happen during a procedure. But it includes patient questions and a checklist of specific topics. There also is a form for patients to sign at the end of the discussion.
Informed consent as a practice protects patient and physician by ensuring that for every surgery, these topics are covered so the patient fully understands:
- The type of procedure your doctor will perform
- Risks and benefits of the procedure
- What could happen if you choose against undergoing the procedure
- Other possible treatments — and the benefits and risks of those options
It’s important to understand that the informed consent discussion also is a chance for you the patient to ask any and all questions you may have.
If you so desire, it’s a good time as well for your family members to get the answers they need.
A two-way discussion
This is a two-way conversation. I tell patients what I think they want to know, while patients help me understand what they want to know.
You should feel comfortable with your decision to have the surgery and leave the discussion with the knowledge to make that decision.
Everyone is different in terms of what level of knowledge makes them feel comfortable about surgery. Some patients want to know every detail about the surgery from beginning to end. Others want to know less and want their family to know more.
Your doctor should discuss your procedure with you to the level that you and your family want to know and to the level that makes you feel comfortable and knowledgeable about your decision.
How to have a good meeting
So what can you do to make the informed consent discussion a good one?
- Come prepared to discuss any concerns or questions you have. Remember that the goal is to leave the discussion feeling like you have an understanding of the procedure and are satisfied with your decision. Stopping to think about what you want to ask and coming prepared will help you feel comfortable.
- Remember that your surgeon is part of your care team. It’s natural to feel nervous, especially in a discussion about surgery, but try to set it aside and ask any questions you have. Realize that your surgeon is invested in helping you. He or she should help ease your mind by giving you all the information you need.
- Request a copy of the informed consent form in advance of the meeting with your doctor. It can be difficult for patients to read and understand the informed consent on the computer in the limited amount of time doctors have with patients. Get a copy of the consent before your appointment. This gives you the opportunity to read the form, write down any questions you have for your surgeon, and leave with a good understanding of what you are signing.
Remember that you should walk away with a solid understanding of your treatment plan, and what to expect before, during, and after surgery.