You’ve probably never heard of Jerry Canterberry from Ohio, but you’ll be surprised to hear how he influenced the entire institution of healthcare.
He recently passed away at the age of 78 after quietly suffering for the last 58 years from debilitating injuries that resulted from a reportedly routine back surgery. Suddenly at age 19, Jerry was wheelchair and bed-bound after that surgery left his legs paralyzed and consigned him to a lifetime of urinary incontinence. Jerry’s case led to a landmark court ruling that fundamentally transformed how doctors deal with patients in evaluating the potential risks of any treatment.
Now considered one of the most significant medicolegal cases in U.S. history, the 1972 ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington declared that before a patient provided informed consent for surgery or other recommended treatment, a doctor must disclose the risks, benefits and alternatives that a reasonable person would consider relevant.
Prior to 1972, the onus of soliciting such information had actually rested squarely on the patient. Any details outlining risks, benefits and other options were provided at the doctor’s discretion. At the time, the doctor was only considered negligent if the treatment administered was specifically against the patient’s wishes.
Interestingly, Jerry and his entire family had no idea just how pivotal their case actually was until about a decade ago when a professor was researching the ruling and contacted them to explain how it had actually benefitted an untold number of subsequent patients.
As if you needed any convincing from this story or from the experiences in your own medical practice with your patients, informed consents offer an important opportunity to improve patient communications. Informed consents are also a way for practitioners to create reasonable expectations about treatment plans, ultimately setting the stage for improved outcomes by better involving patients in the personal decisions about their own healthcare. Beyond that, giving the patient more autonomy and power in their health choices builds confidence in you as their provider.
Although informed consents are required by law, there are actually two important ways to improve and speed your process, further reduce your risk, and actually save time (and therefore money) in the administration of the entire workflow.
- Ensure at a minimum, more complex procedures, tests and treatment plans use a written informed consent. It may sound like this adds time, but in reality, making patients fully aware of the benefits, potential risks and alternatives, and having you and/or your staff reviewing with patient s in detail will actually save your administrative staff a significant amount of administration time. Different people process information differently, and some patients require ‘processing time’ and may need to revisit details of their plan over and over again in order to ultimately make a decision and move forward. Providing detailed information up front can help them reach key decisions faster, and simultaneously make them feel more at ease with next steps.
- Add video recorded informed consent to your current process. Take, for example, more complex medical tests and outpatient procedures. If patients are confused or have questions before or after, they often consume your staff with endless calls. In many cases, family may be calling to get clarifying information as well. Fair enough, it’s their healthcare plan after all; however, your staff can easily end up in excessive back and forth communications that eat away time.
Worse yet, those back and forth exchanges are often not documented, and the time associated with managing the all the communication is not tracked. It becomes a communication time ‘sieve’ that silently drains time and therefore, profitability, out of your practice.
Creating a library of recorded informed consent videos not only ensures patients receive clear, complete information about their procedure or treatment plan the first time, but the video actually helps them better digest and retain the information in the first place. Better still, patients can share the information with loved ones so the entire family can be well informed of what lies ahead.
More Benefits of Adding Video Recorded Informed Consents:
- Ensure correct information is delivered the first time
- Easily review disclosures and conflicts of interest if needed
- Offer patients the most extensive possible understanding of their treatment plan
- Ease patient anxiety by delivering thorough information in an easily digestible format
- Re-engage patients post-procedure by sending a personalized video message
Wondering What Treatments Really Need Informed Consent?
If you’re updating your medical practice processes or just launching a new practice, it’s important to recognize the types of medical procedures and treatment plans that may require you to give written informed consent:
- Most surgeries, even when they are not done in the hospital
- Other advanced or complex medical tests and procedures, such as an endoscopy or a needle biopsy of the liver
- Radiation or chemotherapy to treat cancer
- Most vaccines
- Some blood tests, such as HIV testing (need for written consent varies by state)
What Should Occur During the Informed Consent Process?
When delivering informed consent, be sure it explains:
- If treatment is necessary now or if it can wait
- The patient’s health problem and the reason for the treatment
- What happens during the treatment
- The risks of the treatment and how likely they are to occur
- How likely the treatment is to work
- Other options for treating the patient’s health problem
- Unknown risks or possible side effects that could happen later on
Clearly, informed consents are here to stay and an integral part of delivering quality care across a wide spectrum of patients and treatment plans. Whatever the type of medical practice, use these tips to streamline your process up front and ultimately save time, speed decision making and improve overall profitability by reducing administration time with a thorough, well-planned informed consent workflow.
For more on how your medical practice can improve your informed consent process, you can also speak to an expert at Medical Memory.