Everyone who has had any medical or surgical procedure has signed a consent form — usually lots of intimidating words, hard to read, and seldom explained well.
There is a better way, and it involves recognizing that true “consent” is not about signing a form, but it’s about old-fashioned conversation — a real dialogue between the doctor and the patient that gives the patient a chance to really understand what is about to happen to their body, and gives both doctor and patient a chance to start developing a bond.
Dr. Pauline Chen wrote a helpful column on the subject in the New York Times.
Quoting another doctor who has studied the consent process, Dr. Chen writes that “‘Informed consent is about forging a partnership with the patient.'” And she says:
That partnership is essential and requires what Dr. Martin F. McKneally, a professor emeritus of surgery and bioethics at the University of Toronto in Canada describes as a “leap to trust.” Patients must feel they have a certain degree of trust in their doctors before they can give consent, and that trust is built, in part, from the kind of difficult conversations that can arise.
My comment posted on the Times’ “Well” blog:
This article is another reminder of what I tell people as a patient advocate, and the approach I put into my book “The Life You Save“: “Informed trust is good; blind trust is bad. Ask questions until you’re really comfortable knowing what’s going to happen. It’s your body.” With conscientious doctors like Dr. Chen, this can really happen. (And contrary to what “Jack” says, the fact that it may be routine for the doctor doesn’t make it routine for the patient and doesn’t make it acceptable to rush through the consent dialogue.) The payoff for physicians is a much more accepting attitude by patients of the bad things that can occasionally happen despite good care. The payoff for patients is better care.