Informed consent and the readability of the written consent form

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Abstract

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this study was to objectively ascertain the level of readability of standardised consent forms for orthopaedic procedures.

METHODS

Standardised consent forms (both in summary and detailed formats) endorsed by the British Orthopaedic Association (BOA) were retrieved from orthoconsent.com and assessed for readability. This involved using an online tool to calculate the validated Flesch reading ease score (FRES). This was compared with the FRES for the National Health Service (NHS) Consent Form 1. Data were analysed and interpreted according to the FRES grading table.

RESULTS

The FRES for Consent Form 1 was 55.6, relating to the literacy expected of an A level student. The mean FRES for the BOA summary consent forms (n=27) was 63.6 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 61.2-66.0) while for the detailed consent forms (n=32), it was 68.9 (95% CI: 67.7-70.0). All BOA detailed forms scored >60, correlating to the literacy expected of a 13-15-year-old. The detailed forms had a higher FRES than the summary forms (p<0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

This study demonstrates that the BOA endorsed standardised consent forms are much easier to read and understand than the NHS Consent Form 1, with the detailed BOA forms being the easiest to read. Despite this, owing to varying literacy levels, a significant proportion of patients may struggle to give informed consent based on the written information provided to them.

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