Background: We were interested in determining the current practices and views of European intensive care doctors regarding communication with patients and informed consent for interventions.
Methods: A questionnaire was sent to the 1272 western European doctor members of the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine. All questionnaires were anonymous. Five hundred four completed questionnaires from 16 western European countries were analyzed.
Results: Of the respondents, 25 % said they would always give complete information to a patient, although 35 % felt they should. Thirty-two percent would give complete details of an iatrogenic incident, but 70% felt they should. There were significant differences in these attitudes between doctors from different countries, with doctors from the Netherlands more likely to give complete information, and doctors from Greece, Spain and Italy less likely. Fifty percent of the respondents required written consent for surgery, but for insertion of an arterial catheter oral consent was more widely accepted. The Netherlands and Scandinavia generally accepted oral requests for procedures, while Germany and the United Kingdom preferred written requests. Doctors of all countries were generally happy with their current practice concerning informed consent. Seventy-five percent would accept the right of a patient to refuse treatment, but 19% would carry out the procedure against the patient's wishes.
Conclusions: Doctors are often not completely honest with their patients regarding their diagnosis or prognosis, or in the event of an iatrogenic incident. However, most doctors will respect a patient's right to refuse treatment. Informed consent practices vary substantially and are largely determined by locally accepted policy and accepted by doctors working in those areas.