Expanding Electronic Transmissions in the Practice of Medicine and the Role of Electronic Informed Consent

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Informed consent is a concept that is essential to the physician-patient relationship. The communication between the physician and the patient must be in a language the patient can understand, and it must include a description of the nature and character of a proposed treatment, the anticipated results, the recognized alternative forms of treatment, and the risks and complications of receiving treatment and no treatment. Informed consent must include patient understanding and voluntary acceptance. When physicians understand and adhere to the fundamental meaning of informed consent, they meet their ethical and fiduciary responsibilities to the patient.

The intersection of changes in the structure of medicine, as manifested by managed care medicine and the rapid growth of telecommunication technologies, has led to a belief that the use of electronic communication, including legally binding electronic signatures, to gain informed consent may decrease cost, improve disclosure, and decrease time constraints on physicians. This approach may have merit. However, there is an argument that restraint should be included in the use of electronic media until further study has been completed to ensure that electronic communication does not minimize the substantive nature of the informed consent process. The development and evolution of electronic communication must be scrutinized and regulated to maintain the integrity of the informed consent process and to ensure patient safety across all patient groups.

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