To review the medical, ethical, and legal basis of the doctrine of informed consent for surgery and its complications, particularly for an incapacitated patient who requires a surrogate decision maker; to discuss the elasticity of the consent doctrine, whether surgical consent encompasses consent for surgical complications, and emphasize the importance of communication and shared decision making in the context of the patient-surgeon relationship; and to discuss patient and surrogate refusal of treatment, standards of surrogate decision making, barriers to effective communication, the role of the hospital ethics committee in resolving disputes over treatment, and how to reconceptualize surgical consent in the context of patient-centered medicine.
We reviewed PubMed citations for informed consent in surgery, patient-physician communication, shared decision making, patient-centered medicine, and consent guidelines published by specialty societies, particularly the American College of Surgeons and the Society for Critical Care Medicine.
We selected articles in which issues of consent for surgical treatment were discussed or measured.
We extracted data relevant to questions of consent in surgical practice.
We studied qualitative aspects of the consent doctrine.
Surgical consent is not an event or a signature on a form but is an ongoing process of communication that continues throughout preoperative, perioperative, and postoperative care. In the context of patient-centered medicine, consent is best conceptualized as shared decision making with patients or their surrogates.