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OBJECTIVE—To examine patients' individual requirements for risk disclosure before surgery.
DESIGN—Structured interview and questionnaire.
SETTING—50 patients interviewed following coronary artery bypass grafting or valve replacement or repair.
MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES—Patient assessment of the nature and probability of risks they would have wished to be informed of from a pool comprising death and 13 postoperative complications.
RESULTS—Out of 50 patients, 21 (42%) wanted no risk information at all, 25 (50%) did not want to be advised of the risk of death, and 27 (54%) did not want information about the risk of permanent stroke. This contrasts with standard practice of routinely informing patients of the risk of death and stroke. However, there were pronounced individual patient preferences. Three groups of patients emerged: those requiring little or no risk information, those requiring information about major risks, and those requiring full risk disclosure. Patients were not generally concerned about the specific probabilities of any risk.
CONCLUSIONS—Clinicians counselling patients before operation should routinely discuss patient preferences before risk disclosure, distinguishing among a preference for "no risk information", "all potentially relevant risks", and "those risks considered significant or likely to occur". The fact of individual patient preferences may undermine the concept of the "reasonable patient" in determination of the legal requirements for risk disclosure. Future studies, in addition to replicating the present findings, should examine the reasons underlying individual patient preferences and the long term implications of degrees of risk disclosure, particularly when adverse outcomes occur.
Keywords: cardiac surgery; risk; patient information