Court ruling gives doctors reason to review consent process

Female doctor talking to male patient in hospital bed
Doctors may want to rethink their consent process if they enlist nurses, nurse practitioners or physician assistants to handle some of it.

A recent court decision offers surgeons and other physicians a compelling reason to conduct an assessment of their consent process.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled that only the physician performing a procedure should be involved in the discussion with patients about whether to have surgery, its risks and the alternatives, healthcare attorney Carolyn Buppert, J.D., writes in Medscape.

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“Although this case binds only those in Pennsylvania, it alerts surgeons in other states to conduct an assessment of their consent process,” Buppert notes.

Based on the court's decision that only physicians can obtain patient consent, doctors may want to rethink their procedures if they enlist nurses, nurse practitioners or physician assistants to take over some of the process.

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Doctors must consider factors such as whether anyone else is providing the patient with information and whether they are accessible if a patient has new questions, Buppert says.

For doctors who want to assess their own processes, she suggests they expand consent forms to include more detail. For instance, instead of documenting that you discussed alternatives with patients, list the specifics of what you discussed and identify the patient’s choice.

In addition, she recommends clearly stating the risks of a particular procedure, such as the chance of nicking a carotid artery during surgery. Doctors must also try to be present when the patient signs the consent form to provide the opportunity to answer additional questions.