Evaluating Nurse Understanding and Participation in the Informed Consent Process

Abstract [from journal]

Background: Informed consent is fundamental to the autonomous decision-making of patients, yet much is still unknown about the process in the clinical setting. In an evolving healthcare landscape, nurses must be prepared to address patient understanding and participate in the informed consent process to better fulfill their well-established role as patient advocates.

Research objective: This study examines hospital-based nurses' experiences and understandings of the informed consent process.

Research design: This qualitative descriptive study utilized a semi-structured interview approach identifying thematic concerns, experiences, and knowledge of informed consent across a selected population of clinically practicing nurses.

Participants and research context:In all, 20 baccalaureate prepared registered nurses practicing in various clinical settings (i.e. critical care, oncology, medical/surgical) at a large northeastern academic medical center in the  United States completed semi-structured interviews and a demographic survey. The mean age of participants was 36.6 years old, with a mean of 12.2 years of clinical experience.

Ethical considerations: Participation in this study involved minimal risk and no invasive measures. This study received Institutional Review Board approval from the University of Pennsylvania. All participants voluntarily consented.

Findings: The majority of participants (N = 19) believe patient safety is directly linked to patient comprehension of the informed consent process. However, when asked if nurses have a defined role in the informed consent process, nearly half did not agree (N = 9). Through this qualitative approach, three major nursing roles emerged: the nurse as a communicator, the nurse as an advocate, and the clerical role of the nurse.

Discussion and concluson: This investigation contributes to the foundation of ethical research that will better prepare nurses for patient engagement, advance current understanding of informed consent, and allow for future development of solutions. Nurses are at the forefront of patient-provider interactions and they are often presented opportunities to learn about and engage in the informed consent process.