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Ann Intern Med. 2011 Aug 16;155(4):260-4. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-155-4-201108160-00010.

Ethics and the law: is there common ground on informed consent for disparities in hospital outcomes?

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UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.


The association between procedure volume at institutions and outcomes of cancer surgeries has been widely published in the medical literature; discussed in the lay press; and, during the past 15 years, incorporated into quality improvement endeavors. In certain cases, institutional volume has become a proxy for quality. Despite the vast amount of retrospective data on this topic, physicians generally have been unsure how to approach the information and interpret it for their patients. Even more challenging to some physicians has been deciding whether the data oblige them to either direct patients with cancer to high-volume centers for care or discuss the data with these patients as part of informed consent. An additional challenge is that physicians must understand laws related to these issues and that these laws are unclear. This article reviews the ethical arguments for including disparities in hospital outcomes as part of informed consent and examines whether legal precedent can shed light on this debate.

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