Orthopaedic surgeons routinely obtain informed consent prior to surgery. Legally adequate informed consent requires a thorough discussion of treatment options and risks and proper documentation; however, there is little data to guide orthopaedic surgeons regarding effective methods of obtaining informed consent.

We performed a closed claims analysis on malpractice claims involving an allegation of inadequate informed consent brought during a twenty-four-year period with two malpractice insurers. Relevant malpractice claims were reviewed, and data were abstracted. We then performed statistical analyses to identify factors that positively correlated with a successful defense.

We identified twenty-eight lawsuits that included a claim of inadequate informed consent. All of the cases involved elective orthopaedic surgical procedures; there were no emergent cases. Three cases involved a disputed surgical site; all three cases involved foot and ankle surgery and resulted in an indemnity payment. Documentation of appropriate informed consent in the office notes of the surgeon was associated with a decreased indemnity risk (p < 0.005). Obtaining the informed consent on the hospital ward or in the preoperative holding area was associated with an increased indemnity risk (p < 0.004). When informed consent was obtained in the office by the operating surgeon, the risk of malpractice payment was significantly decreased (p < 0.004).

Surgeons may be able to decrease the risk of a malpractice claim by obtaining informed consent in their offices, rather than in the preoperative holding area, and by documenting the informed consent discussion within their dictated office or operative notes.