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Knowledge of flap complications in finger pulp surgery and patient education--ethical implications

Knowledge of flap complications in finger pulp surgery and patient education--ethical implications

Chirurgie de la Main 20(2): 122-135

The two highest French courts have recently decided that not to fully inform a patient constitutes negligence, and that doctors should be able to prove that the information has been given. The medical community is now debating as to how to protect physicians without harming the doctor-patient relationship. Following this study we put forward the hypothesis that although information might not be available to surgeons nevertheless this should not prevent them taking the ethical steps necessary to redress the situation. We conducted a telephone interview to discover what surgeons knew about the complications of finger flaps used for the reconstruction of pulp defects. Four flaps were studied: the VY flap described by Atasoy, the island finger flap known as Ventataswami's, the reverse island flap and the thenar flap. Surgeons were asked to give the percentage of necrosis, infection, sensory disturbances, digital stiffness and exclusion, as well as the time off work, the time of healing and the sensory discrimination of the flap. The results obtained were compared to those obtained by a literature review. Twenty one qualified hand surgeons answered the questionnaire. Many answers were absent or only fragmentary when sought in the literature. Where complication rates were available, there was a huge variation among series. A large variety of answers was also found in our study. The direct island flap was the best known flap. Complications of the reverse island flap and the thenar flap were overestimated in the group interviewed. There is no true answer, either in the literature or from the study group. There is a gulf between the jurists' demand and the possibilities of knowledge by surgeons. We are still waiting for clinical studies that will answer the questions asked by patients regarding the complications of surgery. However, even if absolute knowledge is not available, it is the ethical duty of surgeons to give the patient information that is as close as possible as the "truth", and that will be helpful to them.

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Accession: 046508429

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PMID: 11386171

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