Originally published January 19, 2019
Here is an excerpt:
Conflicts around consent
The informed consent process is not without its thornier aspects. At times, malpractice suits shift the landscape. For example, in a 2017 Pennsylvania case with possible implications in other states, the court ruled that the physician performing a procedure — not a delegate — must personally ensure that the patient understands the risks involved.
And sometimes, informed consent grabs headlines, as happened recently with allegations that medical students are performing pelvic exams on anesthetized women without consent.
That claim, Orlowski notes, relied on studies from more than 10 years ago, before such changes as more detailed consent forms. Typically, she says, students practice pelvic exams with special mannequins and standardized patients who are specifically trained for this purpose. When students and residents do perform pelvic exams on surgical patients, Orlowski adds, specific consent must be obtained first. “Performing pelvic examinations under anesthesia without patients’ consent is unethical and unacceptable,” she says.
In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that “pelvic examinations on an anesthetized woman … performed solely for teaching purposes should be performed only with her specific informed consent obtained before her surgery.”
Marie Walters, a student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, says she was perplexed by the allegations, so she checked with fellow students at her school and elsewhere. Her explanation: medical students may not know that patients agreed to such exams. “Although students witness some consent processes, we’re likely not around when patients give consent for the surgeries we observe,” says Walters, who is a member of the AAMC Board of Directors. "We may be there just for the day of the surgery,” she notes.
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