Obtaining consent before treating patients is a key part of medical practice. Ideally, the doctor helps the patient understand their condition and treatment options, and the patient helps the doctor understand the patient’s values, preferences and goals. In this way, they work together to decide the best way forward.
In reality, the decision-making and consent process can be fraught. Reasons include cultural and language barriers, doctors using technical terms, and talking past their patients. Patients feel rushed if there is little opportunity to reflect and ask questions, and when signing forms is seen as the end goal. In a public hospital, the doctor who obtains consent may not necessarily be the same doctor who provides the treatment.
This presentation will highlight key aspects from the Medical Council of New Zealand’s statement on informed consent. It was updated in September 2019 after consulting widely with a number of stakeholders including our Consumer Advisory Group. Key changes include more emphasis on shared decision-making, involving the patient’s family (where appropriate), and discussing the option of not treating where this is viable. There is also more guidance on delegating care to other health care professionals, obtaining the patient’s consent beforehand if a medical student or clinical observer attends a consultation, and when a patient under anaesthesia needs more investigation and treatment than they have consented to. Ultimately, our statement is about how doctors can communicate more effectively and support their patients to make informed decisions that lead to better (health) outcomes.