The effect of a state health care consent law on patient care in hospitals: A survey of physicians

Amber R. Comer, Margaret Gaffney, Cynthia Stone, Alexia Torke


Objective: When a patient cannot make medical decisions for him or herself, and has not appointed a healthcare representative, default state healthcare consent laws determine who is able to make healthcare decisions for the patient. The narrow construction of some state laws leaves many patients in situations where the closest person to the patient does not qualify as a representative under the law, or where the patient has too many representatives and a consensus cannot be reached on the patient’s medical care.
Methods: In order to determine how state healthcare consent laws affect patient care in hospitals, a survey of 412 Indiana physicians was conducted.
Results: The data shows 53.8% of physicians experienced a delay in patient care because they were unable to identify a legally appropriate health care representative. Almost half (46.01%) of physicians experienced delay of patient care due to the inability to identify a final decision maker when disputes arose between multiple legal representatives.
Conclusions: The results of this study have important implications for hospital administrators as a delay in patient care can be costly and unnecessarily utilizes hospital resources. Additionally, the results of this study have important implications for the status of state surrogate decision making laws. Amending state laws to include more potential surrogates, has the potential to minimize delays in patient care and ensure that appropriate surrogates are making medical care decisions for patients without the undue burden of court intervention.

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Journal of Hospital Administration

ISSN 1927-6990(Print)   ISSN 1927-7008(Online)

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