Technology helping patients to understand informed consent

Hospitals are turning to technology to better inform patients about what they are consenting for the doctor to perform, reports the Associated Press. The interactive computer programs explain procedures step-by-step, the associated risks and benefits as well as answer patient questions.

Many in the healthcare industry say using computers to acquire informed consent makes patients partners in the decision-making, according to the AP. "[It] sends a message that the decisions are truly owned by the patients," Dr. Harlan Krumholz, a Yale University heart specialist and advocate of changing informed consent procedures, told the news agency.

Cancer patient John Noble watched the program prior to a tumor removal surgery at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. "It changed my perspective. It removed my fear," he told the AP.

The traditional informed consent process often involves convoluted medical forms, leaving patients confused about what they just signed and why a certain procedure is being performed or how it might help or hurt them.

"In order to make informed choices about healthcare, patients need complete and accurate information," Department of Veterans Affairs' Chief Healthcare Ethics Officer Dr. Ellen Fox told the AP. "It is ultimately the patient's choice whether to have a procedure. The program helps make that clear."

The VA requires its doctors to use iMedConsent computer programs for all treatments requiring informed consent. The programs, developed by Dialog Medical in Atlanta, are used by more than 190 hospitals. Chicago-based Emmi Solutions also has developed computer-based informed consent programs used in more than 100 hospitals.

The interactive programs also guard hospitals from lawsuits if something goes wrong, notes the AP. The programs act as an electronic record that hospitals can use to fight malpractice lawsuits. According to the AP, some hospitals already have used such electronic data in court to argue that patients were informed about specific risks because they watched portions of the program that explained those risks.

For more:
- read the Associated Press article