Informed consent in neurosurgery: a systematic review

Nathan A. Shlobin, Mark Sheldon, Sandi Lam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE Informed consent has served as a main principle of medical ethics and laws in the United States. The 1986 American Association of Neurological Surgeons Code of Ethics implied medicolegal liability for the failure to obtain informed consent without providing practical guidance regarding the application of informed consent to individual patient encounters in a medicolegal environment. Here, the authors aimed to identify baseline patient recall after discussions with neurosurgeons and their capacity to provide informed consent, describe the effects of interventions to improve patient comprehension, and elucidate the role of informed consent in malpractice litigation in neurosurgery. Their findings may guide neurosurgeons in discussions to properly inform patients and reduce the risk of litigation. METHODS A systematic review was conducted to explore informed consent within neurosurgery and its application to medicolegal liability using the PubMed, Embase, and Scopus databases. Titles and abstracts from articles identified in the search were read and selected for full-text review. Studies meeting prespecified inclusion criteria were reviewed in full and analyzed for study design, aim, population, interventions, and outcomes. RESULTS Of 1428 resultant articles, 21 were included in the review. Baseline patient recall was low, particularly for risks and alternatives of treatments, and even decreased over time. Cognitive impairment was noted as a factor limiting the ability to provide informed consent. Interventions incorporating a combination of modalities in informed consent discussions, a specialized consent form with points for neurosurgeons to check off upon discussion, interactive websites, question prompt lists, and illustrations were found to be effective in improving patient knowledge. Lack of informed consent was a common factor for malpractice litigation. Spine surgery was particularly prone to costly lawsuits. Payments were generally greater for plaintiff verdicts than for settlements. CONCLUSIONS The application of informed consent to patient encounters is an important facet of clinical practice. Neurosurgeons have a duty to provide patients with all pertinent information to allow them to make decisions about their care. The authors examined baseline patient comprehension and capacity, interventions to improve informed consent, and malpractice litigation; it appears that determining the proper capacity to provide informed consent and considering informed consent as a process that depends on the setting are important. There is room to improve the informed consent process centered on baseline patient health literacy and understanding as well as clear communication using multiple modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2020


  • decision-making
  • informed consent
  • medical malpractice
  • medicolegal
  • neurosurgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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