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Quality Control Aspects

Debating the true basis for informed consent decisions is meaningful only if it leads to different quality control decisions. If informed consent is an important legal threat, it may be cost-effective to indulge in elaborate consent rituals, even if they interfere with the health care provider-patient relationship. However, if informed consent is important only as it relates to the overall provider-patient relationship, there will be situations where it is more important to emphasize other aspects of the provider-patient relationship. This does not mean that information should be withheld from patients. It does mean that a detailed consent form, with several witnesses, is less important to the prevention of lawsuits than is the patient's overall satisfaction with the care.

If informed consent is used to allay the patient's fears, answer the patient's questions, and serve as one more opportunity for the health care providers to communicate with the patient, then it will be extremely effective in preventing lawsuits. If, however, informed consent means only a preprinted form, presented with little opportunity for dialogue, it ill not lead to the patient satisfaction that prevents the filing of lawsuits. Since the risk of an adverse judgment actually based on other negligent acts, it is more important to lower the general risk of a lawsuit being filed than to lower the risk of losing a suit based on informed consent.

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