Informed consent forms can be long and complicated; that’s why it’s most efficient to make them digital.
In 1905, a Minnesota woman named Anna Mohr won a lawsuit against her surgeon for performing an ear surgery without her consent. This ruling was the start of several subsequent cases on patient consent that would establish the concepts we now know as patient autonomy and informed consent.
But more than a century after Mohr won her case, we’re still working to make the process of providing informed consent for medical care easier and more accessible for both patients and providers. Digitized patient consent forms can bring us closer to that goal by making informed consent a more convenient, secure, and effective process.
Informed Consent Defined
According to the American Medical Association, “The process of informed consent occurs when communication between a patient and physician results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention.”
Oral surgeon Mugdha Patwardhan says informed consent requires collaboration between a patient and healthcare provider: “The healthcare provider outlines the risks, the benefits, and any alternative treatments that are available for a specific disease or medical issue.”
However, there isn’t a generally accepted standard for how informed consent is obtained and recorded. Perhaps because of this inconsistency, some providers perform procedures without first securing the patient’s informed consent.
Failing to Secure Informed Consent
Research reveals that doctors’ failure to secure informed consent happens less often when patients feel empowered and in control of their healthcare. But when a patient doesn’t know what questions to ask, or a doctor makes assumptions about a patient’s knowledge, informed consent doesn’t happen.
The consequences of not securing informed consent range from minute to life-shattering.
Doctors who fail to comply with informed consent regulations can lose their right to practice medicine and may even face malpractice charges. A combination of laws, accrediting organizations, and medical associations tightly regulates physician behavior, including their adherence to informed consent practices. There is an exception, however, for emergencies when a person is unconscious or otherwise can’t consent to lifesaving medical care.
The Benefits of Digitizing Informed Consent
Informed consent documents can be tedious to go through, let alone collect, share, and file. To make collecting, sharing, and filing informed consent forms easier, healthcare records administrators can integrate informed consent documents into a patient’s electronic medical records. In a BMC Medical Ethics study published in February 2021, researchers found that the use of digital multimedia tools for informed consent can improve a patient’s understanding of treatment.
Digitizing informed consent forms has other benefits for patients and providers as well. Here are three major advantages of digital informed consent practices:
Patients can access their informed consent agreements online through patient portals from any device. Online forms can cut down on the length of medical visits because patients don’t have to fill out paperwork in person.
The right software enables providers to personalize, send, and collect online consent forms that are HIPAA-compliant. E-signature widgets allow patients to sign digitally on any device.
2. More informed and engaged patients
With online forms, patients can review their documents from anywhere, without the time constraints of an in-person office visit. When given the chance to review at more convenient times, patients are more likely to make more informed decisions and understand the implications of providing consent for treatment. Empowered patients are more likely to vocalize concerns and ask questions during appointments, resulting in truly informed consent.
3. Better patient-provider relationships
One of the many barriers to better patient-provider relationships is a lack of trust. A patient may feel overwhelmed about their medical situation, and if doctors are unclear about a patient’s options or dismissive of their concerns, it can affect the level of trust in the care they receive. It can also lead to legal action from the patient and repercussions from medical boards for the doctor or hospital overseeing the patient’s care.
For informed consent to function correctly, a patient must be competent and aware of the consequences of a medical action. When a doctor or surgeon shares information in a way the patient understands and respects a patient’s right to choose their care, it builds a more trusting relationship. Patients are no longer bystanders but active participants in their healthcare decisions, leading to better patient outcomes in the long run.
Patients seek healthcare to feel better, and caring physicians want to practice shared decision-making with their patients. Healthcare facilities and physicians alike should favor any method that will make informed consent easier for everyone.
Informed consent exists to protect patients’ rights. Digitized health records can further support that goal by helping patients better understand care options and giving healthcare providers more time to focus on the lifesaving work they perform.