Digital delivery of information can empower patients to make informed choices about their care, reduce necessary hospital appointments and improve the quality of face-to-face consultations. These are the conclusions of a small research study led by Mr Simon Parsons (Consultant Oesophago-Gastric Surgeon at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust and Honorary Professor, University of Nottingham). The findings were published in an article entitled ‘Digital Informed Consent: Modernising Information Sharing in Surgery to Empower Patients’ in the World Journal of Surgery in December 2022.
Patients with symptomatic gallstones (meaning they may need surgery) were sent information about the procedure digitally ahead of their first appointment with a surgeon. The system tracked time spent on the information and the patient completed a multiple-choice quiz at the end to assess their understanding. They could also report on their medical history and submit any questions they might have using free text.
The digital information, taken from the EIDO Healthcare library of patient information, was reviewed and approved by the Plain English Campaign, included an animation and came in accessible formats.
Patients liked the multimedia style (text, animation, illustrations), found the information easy to read and felt that the digital delivery was convenient. One patient said:
“The process makes me feel responsible for making a good decision about my own healthcare.”
If a patient comes to their consultation already informed about the proposed treatment, they can have a more meaningful discussion than if the information is completely new to them. This will ensure that decision making is truly shared and consent is properly informed.
The authors noted that the patient-reported medical histories were accurate. More research in this area could lead to an approach that saves health professionals’ time as they would not need to produce this information themselves.
There were no reported disadvantages to the digital delivery, either from patients or health professionals. It is important to note, however, that younger patients were more likely to sign up to the study. Information must always be available to patients in a format that they can access and are comfortable with.
Digital consent solutions will likely become an option for all NHS patients in the future. The research team will continue to measure the impact of these. It is expected that patients and clinicians alike will see an improvement in the informed consent process, and it is hoped that litigation for cases of ‘failure to inform’ will be reduced significantly.
EIDO Healthcare took learnings from this study to inform the development of our digital home consent service. Read more on the EIDO website: https://www.eidohealthcare.com/products/inform-digital-home-consent/
You can read the full study on the Springer website: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00268-022-06846-w#Tab4.
The authors of the study acknowledge the limitations due to the small sample size. More research using a larger sample is needed to confirm the findings reported.
Declaration of interest: Mr Simon Parsons, lead author of the article, is Clinical Director of EIDO Healthcare.