The Role of Informed Consent for Thrombolysis in Acute Ischemic Stroke
Amber R. Comer, Teresa M. Damush, Alexia M. Torke, and Linda S. Williams,
The Journal of Clinical Ethics 30, no. 4 (Winter 2019): 338-46.
Although tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the only medication approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for acute ischemic stroke, there is no consensus about the need for informed consent for its use. As a result, hospitals throughout the U.S. have varying requirements regarding obtaining informed consent from patients for the use of tPA, ranging from no requirement for informed consent to a requirement for verbal or written informed consent. We conducted a study to (1) determine current beliefs about obtaining patients’ informed consent for tPA among a large group of stroke clinicians and (2) identify the ethical, clinical, and organizational factors that influence tPA consent practices. Semi-structured interviews were conducted by trained and experienced investigators and research staff to identify key barriers to implementing acute stroke services. Part of the interview explored current beliefs and practices around informed consent for tPA.
This was a multicenter study that included 38 Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospital locations. Participants were 68 stroke team clinicians, serving primarily on the neurology (35 percent) or emergency medicine (41 percent) service.
We conducted thematic analysis based on principles of grounded theory to identify codes about consent for tPA. We used interpretive convergence to ensure consistency among the individual investigators’ codes and to ensure that all of the investigators agreed on coding and themes.
We found that 38 percent of the stroke clinicians did not believe any form of consent was necessary for tPA, 47 percent thought that some form of consent was necessary, and 15 percent were unsure. Clinicians who believed tPA required informed consent were divided on whether consent should be written (40 percent) or verbal (60 percent). We identified three factors describing clinicians’ attitudes about consent: (1) legal and policy factors, (2) ethical factors, and (3) medical factors.
The lack of consensus regarding consent for tPA creates the potential for delays in treatment, uneasiness among clinicians, and legal liability. The identified factors provide a potential framework to guide discussions about developing a standard of care for acquiring the informed consent of patients for the administration of tPA.
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