At the heart of the sensationalism surrounding a recent high-profile malpractice lawsuit are issues with the effectiveness of the informed consent process, concerns about general health literacy and problems with doctor-patient communications.
The case of Phillip Seaton, a Kentucky man who sued his surgeon after having a partial penile amputation, was covered extensively by the news media last week. ' The Boston Globe reported that 'Seaton's attorney said during opening legal arguments that the surgeon hadn't told his patient that the inflammation he planned to treat with a circumcision could be a sign of cancer and might necessitate the removal of Seaton's sex organ.'
Seaton signed a consent form despite having limited literacy skills, raising questions about how the informed consent process commonly happens and how it could be enhanced. ' There are some efforts being made to improve the informed consent process.' ' Scientific American in 'Uninformed Consent: Tech Solutions for Faulty Permissions in Health Care' describes interactive computer programs that allow patients to pause, rewind and ask questions and may provide a more effective means of communicating the risks and outcomes of procedures and treatments.
Stephen Wilkins, in Poor Doctor-Patient Communication Is Closely Linked to Non-Adherence uses graphics to share a body of compelling research that points out that doctors tend to overestimate the amount of information they have conveyed to patients, while underestimating the amount of information their patients want.' This contributes to noncompliance and other sub-optimal patient outcomes.' ' As CFAH President Jessie Gruman wrote in her Prepared Patient post recently, 'Most of us make [medical] choices with little guidance and support.' Doctors and patients need to work collaboratively to ensure that everyone is on the same page.