Technical jargon and acronyms should be banished from elective surgery patient consent forms, according to the authors of a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Dr Mark Siddins, Director of the Urology Unit at the Repatriation General Hospital in
Adelaide, and his co-authors conducted retrospective reviews of consent forms for all patients on the unit's waiting list on three occasions in 2005, 2007 and 2008.
Of 1280 consent documents, only 18.5 per cent described procedures using plain language.
The remaining forms could not readily be understood without specialist medical knowledge.
In 15.3 per cent of consent forms, a significant component of the procedure was described using only an acronym, without further explanation. In 6.6 per cent of consent forms, procedure descriptions contained only acronyms, abbreviations or technical terminology, with no plain language words.
The purpose of the operation was conveyed in 10.1 per cent of consent forms. Relevant risks were provided in 4.1 per cent. Any indication of the magnitude of procedural risks was provided in only four of 1280 forms.
The authors said that they believed the findings were broadly representative of current hospital practice.
The authors found it disturbing that about one in 15 patients received a procedure description on the consent form that did not contain a single word that could be interpreted even with reference to a standard dictionary.
"The use of technical jargon and acronyms on patient consent forms is unacceptable. This underscores a view of consent as a documentary hurdle, rather than an educational opportunity."
Dr Siddins and his co-authors said that the community should consider what standards should be set for information contained on elective surgery consent forms.
They recommended that minimum requirements for valid consent documentation include a plain language description of the intended procedure; an explanation of the purpose and intended benefit; information regarding material risks; and information regarding established treatment alternatives.
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.