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Say what? Patients have poor immediate memory of major risks of interscalene block disclosed during the informed consent discussion


Background Poor memory of disclosed risks can undermine informed consent and create medicolegal challenges. The extent to which patients remember the risks of peripheral nerve blockade following the informed consent discussion is unknown. This prospective cohort study evaluated patients’ immediate memory of risks related to interscalene block (ISB) that were disclosed during the preoperative informed consent discussion.

Methods Using a standardized script, patients scheduled for arthroscopic shoulder surgery were informed of the risks of ISB by an anesthesiologist in the preoperative assessment clinic. Immediately thereafter, consenting participants were asked to identify the risks of ISB from a printed list of nine true risks (four major and five minor) and nine ‘distractor’ items, which were unrelated adverse events and not disclosed. The primary outcome was the proportion of participants who remembered all four true major risks including long-term nerve damage, seizure, life-threatening event, and damage to the covering of the lung.

Results Among 125 participants, only 26 (21%) remembered all four major risks of ISB. The mean number of major risks remembered was 2±1 out of 4. Fifteen (12%) participants remembered all nine true risks. The mean number of true risks remembered was 6±2 out of 9. Multivariable analysis revealed that participants’ self-rated assessment of their memory was not associated with actual recall.

Conclusion Patients have poor immediate memory of the major risks related to ISB disclosed during the informed consent discussion. Under the present study conditions, the validity of the informed consent process for patients undergoing ISB may be undermined.

  • informed consent
  • nerve block
  • brachial plexus
  • ambulatory anesthesia
  • recall
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