Toni Cordell’s surgery would be “an easy repair,” her doctor said. Embarrassed at being a slow reader, she signed the informed-consent papers she was given without understanding them.
She said no one, including her doctor, explained the procedure in detail beforehand or uttered the word “hysterectomy.” Cordell didn’t discover the nature of her operation until months after surgery when an office nurse inquired about her recovery.
Cordell’s story of being bewildered by medical-legal jargon is not unique. According to a 2005 National Quality Forum report, between 60% and 70% of patients do not read or understand informed-consent documents and nearly half cannot recall the exact nature of the operation to be performed.
Now a growing number of hospitals and physicians are moving to redesign informed-consent protocols. They are using new computer technology and education techniques to improve safety and ensure that patients understand a surgery’s risks and benefits. Informed consent is a process, they say, not a piece of paper.
The whole shebang.