In October 2004, Kerry O’Connell fell off a ladder while painting his house in Colorado. The fall resulted in a dislocated elbow and a fractured radius bone near the elbow. Kerry’s injury and the faulty surgery that followed would lead Kerry on a path through our disjointed health care system that he never could have imagined. Two days after his fall, Kerry met with an orthopedic surgeon who gave him two options to fix his left arm: surgery or no surgery. If Kerry chose to forgo surgery, his arm might never completely heal. If he chose surgery, the doctor assured him that he would have a fully functioning arm. Kerry trusted his surgeon and the health care system to provide him with the best care possible, so he signed the consent form to have surgery. Two weeks later, Kerry woke up from surgery with a paralyzed left arm due to a flawed surgery. The surgeon’s failure to fully inform Kerry of the benefits and risks of his options led Kerry on a path of seven more surgeries and a hospital-acquired infection, all within a 2-year period. Kerry describes this painful and tragic experience in a Health Affairs narrative “Two Arms, Two Choices: If Only I’d Known Then What I Know Now.” A patient being left in the dark about their care options is an issue that needs to be addressed in order to ensure that our health care system is one that really does provide the best care possible to the people it serves, patients.
This June, patients, physicians, lawyers, policy makers, ethicists and others will gather in Hanover, New Hampshire, for the 7th Annual Summer Institute for Informed Patient Choice (SIIPC). With the theme “The legal and ethical implications of keeping patients in the dark,” the sessions will be an invigorating 3-day discussion about health care transparency. Speakers will focus on the importance of greater transparency in health care and innovative solutions to promote patient–centered care through interdisciplinary collaborations.
As co-director of this year’s conference, Ben Moulton, senior vice president of the Informed Medical Decisions Foundation, believes in the potential for change. “I want to raise awareness among academics, lawyers, physicians, etc., about how important these issues are and to really transform how we practice day-to-day care.”
A specific topic of discussion for participants will revolve around the disputed patient consent form. The form, which physicians are required to get signed by their patients in order to perform a procedure, is more often than not just a formality in their care, and not a real, informative conversation. There has been much public debate about the patient consent form and whether it is sufficient in its current state. Rather than changing the form, our health system itself needs to change. For a physician to receive patient consent, a shared decision making conversation must take place. This ensures that the patient has all the information to truly consent. There are four reasons shared decision making is needed in our health care system: