Collateral Damage: Take Two

“Doctors love to patronize and dominate. Their arrogance and indifference to the philosophy of informed consent is widely known. Surprisingly, most residents and doctors in teaching public hospitals tacitly endorse such reservations against information sharing. To most of them getting informed consent is a needless nuisance, to be delegated to a raw resident whose sole responsibility is to get the patient’s signature on the dotted line.”
Issues in Medical Ethics Volume 8, Number 4, October-December 2000…and Chapter One, Page 1 of Dan Walter’s book titled Collateral Damage

Walt Kelly, 1970

Walt Kelly, 1970

It has only been a few weeks since reading Dan’s book – yet I felt compelled to go back this weekend and read sections of it again. Since medical school, I rarely read something–even the Sunday paper–without a yellow highlighter in my hand, a side effect of the competitive paranoia instilled in me during medical school. I went back this weekend to the sections I had highlighted in Dan’s book, and found the quote above, right up front – Chapter One, Page One. I understand and appreciate why Dan purposely chose that quote to open his book.  I also knew why I had highlighted it a few weeks ago…long before I had finished reading Pam’s story and all the research Dan so eloquently presents  on the “cardiac ablation business”.

I had highlighted this section because that opening paragraph took me back to last summer, and our Telluride Patient Safety Roundtable and Resident Physician Summer Camp. Resident physician leaders from across the country spend one week immersed in patient safety with a major focus on open and honest communication. Over a three-week period during the summer, almost 100 residents and health science students join us in Telluride, CO to learn about important concepts related to patient safety and transparency. Here is a short video clip about the student summer camp, which has organically grown from a roundtable discussion of patient safety diehards and patient advocates over the last nine years into what is now an Educate the Young patient safety summer school. Patients help teach all sessions at the summer camp.

A three-hour session on informed consent/shared decision-making is part of the week-long curriculum in Telluride. At the end of this session last year, Paul Levy (@PaulFLevy, Not Running a Hospital) asked the residents how much informed consent training they had received during medical school and residency. With a show of hands, every resident acknowledged the three-hour session on informed consent/shared decision-making at the Telluride Summer Camp was more training than they received during their entire medical school and residency combined. We all agreed this was a sad commentary on the current state of medical education as it relates to patient centered care. One of our Telluride residents went even further when he posted this reflection on the day’s educational session:

I don’t think that I’ve ever thought so much about informed consent as I did today. A discussion about informed consent to the level of detail that we had today needs to be part of all residency training in the first days of orientation and as refresher training later on in training. All physicians can, and should, do much better in providing informed consent.

Over the years, I have come to know many patients and families who have been harmed from care. It seems almost every story that was shared had a serious breakdown in informed consent, or more appropriately, shared decision-making.  The families of Lewis Blackman and Michael Skolnik, and many others, might have chosen much different treatment courses if all the risks and procedural outcomes were shared with them.

We need to get this right. It is fundamental to ever achieving high quality, safe care.  If we don’t, we will continue to see unnecessary harm, more books like Collateral Damage and more films like The Faces of Medical Error…From Tears to Transparency. As Pogo says “We have met the Enemy…and he is us.”

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