The process of informed consent for urgent abdominal surgery

Journal of Medical Ethics 27 (3):157-161 (2001)
Abstract
Objectives—To assess perceptions of the informed consent process in patients undergoing urgent abdominal surgery.Design—A prospective observational study was carried out using structured questionnaire-based interviews. Patients who had undergone urgent abdominal surgery were interviewed in the postoperative period to ascertain their perceptions of the informed consent process. Replies were compared to responses obtained from a control group undergoing elective surgery, to identify factors common to the surgical process and those specific to urgent surgery. Patients' perceptions of received information were also compared to the information perceived to have been provided by the consent obtainers. Setting—Gastrointestinal surgical service of a university teaching hospital.Patients—Seventy-four consecutive patients undergoing urgent abdominal surgery and 80 control patients undergoing elective surgery. Main measurements—Principal outcome measures were patients' perceptions of factors interfering with the ability to give informed consent, assessment of the quality of informed consent and the degree of discussion of the expected outcomes. Results—Forty-nine of the seventy-four (66%) patients undergoing urgent surgery perceived that pain did not affect their ability to give informed consent. Twenty-seven reported an adverse effect of analgesia on the ability to give informed consent. Only 22% of patients undergoing urgent surgery perceived that there had been any discussion of potential side effects and complications of surgery. Conclusion–The majority of patients in this series with acute intra-abdominal surgical conditions perceive that they retain the ability to give informed consent for surgery. There is a need for improved discussion of therapeutic options and likely outcomes
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