• Why Take the Risk?

    The Patient Education Committee and the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company (OMIC) have developed guidelines to help you manage risk through well-thought-out patient education and effective informed consent. Manage your risk by following these guidelines.

    Why Educate Patients?

    Ophthalmologists must ensure that patients have reasonable expectations of surgery through the informed consent process. A signed and witnessed informed consent document doesn’t mean there is no legal risk. Many patients who sue claim that their surgeon didn’t give them enough information about the operation or didn’t give enough time to decide whether the operation was right for them.

    Spending more time with patients and incorporating patient education materials may reduce the likelihood of malpractice claims. While poor treatment outcome is the primary cause of malpractice actions, poor communication is actually at the root of about 75 percent of cases. A good physician-patient relationship might deter patients from suing — even in situations where medical error causes a problem.

    Key points

    • Take the time to talk with your patients.
    • The timing of the consent discussion is critical.
    • The consent documents and patient education materials must be up-to-date.
    • Patient information and marketing materials are part of the informed consent process.
    • Documentation of the informed consent process is essential.

    You should disclose:

    • Any risks that are believed to help the patient make a decision whether to proceed with surgery;
    • Risks that reflect the needs and understanding of the patient, the limits of the procedure and major risks.

    Not all risks need to be disclosed verbally, but should be included in as much detail as possible in the informed consent document.

    Verbal emphasis should be placed on items that are particularly important to the patient.

    Informed consent documents:

    • Should be reviewed with patient in office in advance of surgery;
    • Should be given to patients to take home and review with family or friends;
    • Should be returned and signed prior to surgery — with all pages initialed;
    • Should be saved within medical records.

    Informed consent encompasses every piece of educational material your patient gets from your practice, including: 

    • Verbal descriptions and instructions;
    • Patient handouts;
    • Videos;
    • Marketing materials.

    Good patient education:

    • Is clear, accurate, current and thorough;
    • Is developed by a reliable, professional source;
    • Serves as an “extender” of the oral conversation with patient;
    • Helps improve understanding of consent form risks;
    • Is not overstated and does not instill unrealistic expectations in the patient; and
    • Avoids misleading statements, such as “eliminate glasses” or “safe and effective.”