Section I: PATIENT CONSENT AND DISCLOSURE
a. The Patient's Right to Know the Potential Risks and Benefits. Principle
13 of the Patient's Bill of Rights (see Appendix) covers the concept of patient consent:
"The patient has a legal right to refuse any particular drug, test, procedure, or
treatment." Today, more than ever, with the many new, complex, and relatively untried
diagnostic and therapeutic procedures available, it is important to make certain that
patients give their consent to procedures with an understanding of the risks and
benefits. It is not just the complex procedures that pose risks. Even simple procedures
can present problems. Infection may be introduced by a needle; sudden death may
follow the intravenous administration of such relatively inert substances as
dehydrochloric acid. No agent that can modify the internal environment of the body can
be used without hazard. Entry by needles or other instruments into tissues, vessels, or
cavities of the body involves risk of infection.
b. Medical Malpractice Lawsuits. Patient consent is an area in which the
potential for legal liability is great. Acquainting yourself with consent requirements will
minimize the Army's risk of liability.
c. Lesson Scope. This lesson covers the various types of consent, the
requirements for informed consent, standards of disclosure, exceptions to disclosure,
and the decision-making role of patients and their representatives.
The frequency of medical malpractice claims in the United States (US) (number of
claims per 100 physicians) rose at an average of ten percent a year between 1975 and
1985, reaching a level of 0.163 percent by 1986. Frequency varied widely by specialty
and state. Claims against obstetricians and other high-risk surgical specialties were
two to three times the average for all specialties. Among six states surveyed by the
General Accounting Office, claim frequency per 100 physicians ranged from 8.6 in
Arkansas to 35.7 in New York. By 1986, the typical payment was about ,000. But,
50 percent of the dollars paid were on five percent of all claims, reflecting the minority
of cases involving permanent disability or death for which the awards are larger.
Malpractice insurance costs have risen commensurately. Costs in Canada and the
U.K. where legal systems tend to favor potential plaintiffs less than our system have
increased just as dramatically.1