Evaluating the Quality of Informed Consent and Contemporary Clinical Practices by Medical Doctors in South Africa: An Empirical Study
Sylvester C. Chima
Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine & School of Public Health, University of KwaZulu-Natal
December 19, 2013
3rd Ethics, Human Rights and Medical Law Conference, Africa Health Congress 2013 Johannesburg, South Africa. 7-9 May 2013
BMC Medical Ethics 2013, 14(Suppl 1):S3 doi:10.1186/1472-6939-14-S1-S3
Background: Informed consent is a legal and ethical doctrine derived from the principle of respect for autonomy. Generally two rights derived from autonomy are accorded legal protection. The constitutional right to bodily integrity followed by the right to bodily well-being, protected by professional negligence rules. Therefore healthcare professionals treating patients' without valid consent may be guilty of infringing patients' rights. Many challenges are experienced by doctors obtaining informed consent in complex multicultural societies like South Africa. These include different cultural ethos, multilingualism, poverty, education, unfamiliarity with libertarian rights based autonomy, and power asymmetry between doctors and patients. All of which could impact on the ability of doctors to obtain legally valid informed consent.
Methods: The objective of this study was to evaluate whether the quality of informed consent obtained by doctors practicing in South Africa is consistent with international ethical standards and local regulations. Responses from 946 participants including doctors, nurses and patients was analyzed, using a semi-structured self-administered questionnaire and person triangulation in selected public hospitals in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
Results: The median age of 168 doctors participating was 30 years with 51% females, 28% interns, 16% medical officers, 26% registrars, 30% consultant/specialists. A broad range of clinical specialties were represented. Challenges to informed consent practice include language difficulties, lack of interpreters, workload, and time constraints. Doctors spent 5-10 minutes on consent, disclosed most information required to patients, however knowledge of essential local laws was inadequate. Informed consent aggregate scores (ICAS) showed that interns/registrars scored lower than consultants/specialists. ICAS scores were statistically significant by specialty (p = 0.005), with radiologists and anaesthetists scoring lowest, while internists, GPs and obstetricians/gynaecologists scored highest. Comparative ICAS scores showed that professional nurses scored significantly lower than doctors (p ≤ 0.001).
Conclusions: This study shows that though doctors had general knowledge of informed consent requirements, execution in practice was inadequate, with deficiency in knowledge of basic local laws and regulations. Remedying identified deficiencies may require a 'corps' of interpreters in local hospitals to assist doctors in dealing with language difficulties, and continuing education in medical law and ethics to improve informed consent practices and overall quality of healthcare service delivery.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 17
Keywords: Africa; Autonomy; Patients' rights; Informed consent; Doctors; Empirical ethics; Nurses; Laws; Regulations
JEL Classification: I18, K32, C88, C93
Date posted: February 25, 2014