Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Who's afraid of informed consent?

British Medical Journal 1993; 306 doi: (Published 30 January 1993) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1993;306:298
  1. D D Kerrigan,
  2. R S Thevasagayam,
  3. T O Woods,
  4. I Mc Welch,
  5. W E Thomas,
  6. A J Shorthouse,
  7. A R Dennison
  1. Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Sheffield.


    OBJECTIVE--To test the assumption that patients will become unduly anxious if they are given detailed information about the risks of surgery in an attempt to obtain fully informed consent. DESIGN--Preoperative anxiety assessed before and after patients were randomly allocated an information sheet containing either simple or detailed descriptions of possible postoperative complications. SETTING--Four surgical wards at two Sheffield hospitals. SUBJECTS--96 men undergoing elective inguinal hernia repair under general anaesthesia. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE--Change in anxiety level observed after receiving information about potential complications. RESULTS--Detailed information did not increase patient anxiety (mean Spielberger score at baseline 33.7 (95% confidence interval 31.3 to 36.2), after information 34.8 (32.1 to 37.5); p = 0.20, paired t test). A simple explanation of the facts provided a statistically significant degree of reassurance (mean score at baseline 34.6 (31.5 to 37.6), after information 32.3 (29.8 to 34.9); p = 0.012), although this small effect is likely to be clinically important only in those whose baseline anxiety was high (r = 0.27, p = 0.05). CONCLUSIONS--In men undergoing elective inguinal hernia repair a very detailed account of what might go wrong does not increase patient anxiety significantly and has the advantage of allowing patients a fully informed choice before they consent to surgery, thus reducing the potential for subsequent litigation.