VA automates patient consent forms

By Caroline Broder
12:00 AM

Patients undergoing surgery this summer at many Veterans Affairs medical centers across the country will get an updated twist on the old paper forms patients must fill out before an operation.

Facilities such as North Carolina's Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center are allowing patients to electronically fill out informed consent documents, ensuring that patients are notified about potential risks in a consistent manner and that the information is stored in the patient's chart.

Using an application from Dialog Medical, VA facilities by the end of August will automate the patient consent process as a way to educate patients about procedures, ensure the informed consent process is standardized and quickly store the information in a hospital's document management system.

The Durham VA Medical Center, a 274-bed teaching and research hospital affiliated with Duke University School of Medicine, has been using the application since the beginning of this year for most of the medical center's surgical subspecialties. Sally Kellum, lead clinical coordinator for hospital informatics at the medical center, said automated patient consent has allowed clinicians to give patients a more complete picture of a procedure they are about to undergo. The information that the clinician tells the patient is standardized - something that didn't always happen when the informed consent procedure was paper-based, according to Kellum.

"The paper process was fraught with paper-compliance errors," she said.

Clinicians can also show patients pictures and diagrams to help them better understand a procedure during the consent process. Once the patient has electronically signed the document, it is automatically stored in the patient's progress note, reducing the need to search for the document moments before surgery. A VA study found informed consent documents are often missing from the patient chart before a procedure. Prior to using an electronic informed consent application. Dialog Medical company officials say a study at three VA facilities found that it cost $80,000 per year, per facility to scan informed consent documents and that countless hours were wasted looking for the information when it was missing from the patient chart.

Kellum said the program has improved patient satisfaction and eliminated the need to track down informed consent documents before surgery.

Kellum and Dialog Medical officials also say automating the informed consent process also could help hospitals comply with the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organization's 2006 patient safety goal that "hand-offs" of patients between caregivers be standardized as part of an overall goal to improve communication among caregivers.

Dialog Medical also has automated advanced directives forms, which tell a physician what type of treatment the patient wants if the patient is unable to make a medical decision. Late last month, the company made the feature available to all 162 VA hospitals.