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  • Why take the risk?

    The American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Patient Education Committee and the Ophthalmic Mutual Insurance Company (OMIC) have developed guidelines to help you manage risk through impactful patient education and an effective informed consent process. 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 they weren't given 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.

    What are the key points to keep in mind for mitigating risk?

    • Take the time to talk with your patients.
    • The timing of the consent discussion is critical.
    • Provide patients with up-to-date consent documents and patient education materials.
    • Thoroughly document the informed consent process.

    What should you disclose as part of the informed consent process?

    • Disclose risks that you believe help the patient decide whether to proceed with surgery;
    • Disclose risks that reflect the needs and understanding of the patient, the limits of the procedure and major risks.

    While not all risks need to be disclosed verbally, they should be included with as much detail as possible in the informed consent document.

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

    Informed consent documents should be:

    • Reviewed with your patient in office in advance of surgery;
    • Given to patients to take home and review with family or friends;
    • Signed and returned prior to surgery—with all pages initialed;
    • Saved within medical records.

    What does informed consent include?

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

    What does good patient education look like?

    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 your patients;
    • 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.”

    Resources to help mitigate risk

    OMIC has additional risk management information and consent forms.

    The Academy offers patient education materials in English and Spanish.