, Volume 22, Issue 12, pp 2698-2704
Date: 10 Apr 2008

What a signature adds to the consent process

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Abstract

Background

“Consent is a process by which a patient is informed and becomes a participant in decisions regarding their medical management.” It is argued, however, that providing a signature to a form adds little to the quality of this process.

Methods

Views regarding the consent ritual of nonselected patients undergoing endoscopy (cystoscopy or sigmoidoscopy) were prospectively studied together with those of the attending staff. Patient volunteers were randomly assigned to one of two groups and given verbal explanation before the procedure, either alone (group A) or with a request to sign a form in addition (group B). A standardized questionnaire regarding preferences then was applied.

Results

A total of 37 patients (22 men) were studied along with seven staff members. Most surveyed felt that signing a consent form helped to empower the patient (group A, 84%; group B, 83%; staff, 100%). Although the patients mainly believed that it functioned primarily to protect the hospital and doctor (group A, 89%; group B, 67%), only one patient (3% of total) felt that such a formality undermined the patient–doctor relationship. Most staff members favored signing a form (86%). The majority of patients either favored it (group A, 47%; group B, 78%) or expressed no strong preference (group A, 32%; group B, 11%). Interestingly, more women than men preferred signing (73 vs. 55%; p = 0.25), perhaps because more women believed that it functioned to preserve autonomy (93 vs. 77% of men). Age was no particular determinant of perspective.

Conclusion

Although it may be viewed as primarily serving to protect the doctor and hospital, the formal process of signing written consent forms appeals to patients and staff.