couple sitting at desk with doctor

Hastings Center Report

Better Conversations for Better Informed Consent: Talking with Surgical Patients

Abstract: For more than sixty years, surgeons have used bioethical strategies to promote patient self-determination, many of these now collectively described as “informed consent.” Yet the core framework—understanding, risks, benefits, and alternatives—fails to support patients in deliberation about treatment. We find that surgeons translate this framework into an overly complicated technical explanation of disease and treatment and an overly simplified narrative that surgery will “fix” the problem. They omit critical information about the goals and downsides of surgery and present untenable options as a matter of patient choice. We propose a novel framework called “better conversations.” Herein, surgeons provide context about clinical norms, establish the goals of surgery, and comprehensively delineate the downsides of surgery to generate a deliberative space for patients to consider whether surgery is right for them. This paradigm shift meets the standards for informed consent, supports deliberation, and allows patients to anticipate and prepare for the experience of treatment.

Read the Article