E-Consent: Can Informed Consent Be Just a Click Away?

17 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2018

Date Written: 2015


As hospitals continue to modernize, electronic informed-consent forms or processes-also known as e-formed consent-are becoming more prevalent. E-formed consent has already been tested and implemented in a variety of hospitals nationwide. Although it is impossible, and even unwise, to attempt to halt technology, taking time to reflect on its impact can "be seen as an investment of positive caring energy in the patient," particularly for those patients considered most vulnerable. Taking time to reflect is even more important where, as here, scholars speculate that the e-formed consent model may become more common in the primary-care setting. The increasing use of e-formed consent may negatively impact the physician-patient relationship by: (1) increasing paternalism, (2) replacing face-to-face interaction, and (3) not addressing individual needs. On the other hand, for all of the criticisms that have been levied against e-formed consent, scholars also point to potential benefits such as: (1) increasing patient knowledge, (2) improving physician-patient interaction, and (3) possibly creating a more effective doctrine of informed consent.

This Essay provides an overview of the ethical and legal basis of informed consent generally. It briefly examines the laws of the fifty states, particularly as those laws concern the use of written consent forms. This Essay then focuses on problems that patients experience with written informed-consent forms. Following this, it examines scientific studies on how the brain processes material differently when that material is read on a screen versus on paper. This Essay also explores some of the e-formed consent systems being used by hospitals and health-care entities today. It concludes by examining in greater depth the promises and pitfalls of e-formed consent and advocating that best practices be identified and that informed-consent laws be harmonized to reflect the interests of health-care providers and patients, specifically patients considered most vulnerable.

Keywords: e-formed consent, informed consent, e-consent

Suggested Citation

Coughlin, Christine Nero, E-Consent: Can Informed Consent Be Just a Click Away? (2015). Wake Forest Law Review, Vol. 50, 2015, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3134756

Christine Nero Coughlin (Contact Author)

Wake Forest University - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 7206
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

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