Two-thirds of clients who signed informed consent forms viewed the document as disempowering them, instead giving control to the vet, a study has found.

Informed consent
A large number of respondents thought the consent process removed their right to complain or even express a grievance. Image: nito / Fotolia.

In the first published work of its kind, 470 clients attending the Queen Mother Hospital for Animals at the RVC were retrospectively surveyed to establish their perceptions of informed consent.

Of the 165 (35%) of clients who responded, two-thirds viewed the form as disempowering, a third believed it protected the vet and a fifth thought it preferentially protected the hospital.

Surprising outcome

Lead author Martin Whiting, lecturer in veterinary ethics and law at the RVC, said: “There was a somewhat surprising outcome really. There’s a relatively large percentage of clients who think the consent process removes their right to complain or even express a grievance.”

As a result of the findings, the authors believe the number of consent-related complaints a practice receives might be an underestimate of the actual grievances felt.

Dr Whiting identified the limitations of the paper, published in Veterinary Record, was on a relatively small scale and conducted at a teaching hospital where the consent process was more pronounced.

However, having established for the first time an issue exists with clients’ perception of consent, he expressed the hope the study could be extended into general practice to help determine the full extent of the problem.

Changes to process

The next stage of the research might be to work out what kind of interventions and changes to the current consent process might be made to empower the clients, improve their experience and counter paternalism.

Dr Whiting said: “I think it’s about adapting our language and empathy to bring that client on board and empower him or her to help make the decision. I think it’s very easy for us to forget how disempowered and vulnerable clients may feel when they present themselves, unable to help their loved companions.”

  • Read the full story in the 23 January issue of Veterinary Times.
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4 months 8 days ago

Since the stupid reasons why clients complain, I would be not too worried about it.


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