A “Best-Case/Worst-Case” Strategy for Preoperative Consent

Summary and Comment |
July 13, 2017

A “Best-Case/Worst-Case” Strategy for Preoperative Consent

  1. Abigail Zuger, MD

A novel schema for presenting surgical risks to frail elders might help foster better care.

  1. Abigail Zuger, MD

Surgeons presumably know how to obtain informed consent: They do it before every procedure. But when surgery is considered for older patients with substantial comorbidities and limited life expectancies, decisions to operate are qualitatively different, and they often require patients and families to choose among many suboptimal care options. Can a novel approach to these difficult presurgical discussions smooth their progress?

Seventeen surgeons on the staff of a single hospital completed a 2-hour training session in a “best-case/worst-case” strategy in which the possible outcomes of both undergoing surgery and foregoing surgery were presented to patients in qualitative terms (e.g., “ICU stay,” “dialysis,” “groggy, unable to talk to family,” “death at home”) rather than specific quantitative risks. Surgeons were encouraged to construct a written diagram of care options and possible outcomes for each patient and family to review. Participants included 32 older patients (age range, 68−95; ≈70% with ≥2 comorbid conditions); surgeons conducted discussions with 12 patients before training and with remaining patients after training.

Compared with discussions conducted before the training, those conducted after the training were more likely to emphasize the partnership between patient and physician and to refer specifically to patient preferences. Median scores on transcripts of these discussions, ranked on a standard scale for shared decision-making, improved from 41% before the training to 74% afterwards.


This pilot study is far too small for much valid numerical analysis. But the schema it uses for helping patients and their doctors navigate difficult decisions is interesting and might well prove useful for all physicians, not only surgeons.

Editor Disclosures at Time of Publication

  • Disclosures for Abigail Zuger, MD at time of publication Editorial boards Clinical Infectious Diseases; Open Forum Infectious Diseases


Your Comment

(will not be published)

Filtered HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Do you have any conflict of interest to disclose?
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Vertical Tabs

* Required

Reader comments are intended to encourage lively discussion of clinical topics with your peers in the medical community. We ask that you keep your remarks to a reasonable length, and we reserve the right to withhold publication of remarks that do not meet this standard.

PRIVACY: We will not use your email address, submitted for a comment, for any other purpose nor sell, rent, or share your e-mail address with any third parties. Please see our Privacy Policy.