Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Informed consent practices for surgical care at university teaching hospitals: a case in a low resource setting

Joseph Ochieng1*, Charles Ibingira1, William Buwembo1, Ian Munabi1, Haruna Kiryowa1, David Kitara2, Paul Bukuluki3, Gabriel Nzarubara45 and Erisa Mwaka1

Author Affiliations

1 Anatomy Department, School of Biomedical Sciences Makerere University, P.O 7072, Kampala, Uganda

2 Surgery Department, Gulu University, Gulu, Uganda

3 Department of Social Administration College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda

4 Anatomy Department, Kampala International University, Ishaka, Uganda

5 Anatomy Department, St. Augustine International University, Kampala, Uganda

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Medical Ethics 2014, 15:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6939-15-40

Published: 19 May 2014



Informed consent in medical practice is essential and a global standard that should be sought at all the times doctors interact with patients. Its intensity would vary depending on the invasiveness and risks associated with the anticipated treatment. To our knowledge there has not been any systematic review of consent practices to document best practices and identify areas that need improvement in our setting. The objective of the study was to evaluate the informed consent practices of surgeons at University teaching Hospitals in a low resource setting.


A cross-sectional study conducted at three university teaching hospitals in Uganda. Self-guided questionnaires were left at a central location in each of the surgical departments after verbally communicating to the surgeons of the intention of the study. Filled questionnaires were returned at the same location by the respondents for collection by the research team. In addition, 20 in-depth interviews were held with surgeons and a review of 384 patients’ record files for informed consent documentation was done.


A total of 132 (62.1%) out of 214 questionnaires were completed and returned. Respondents were intern doctors, residents and specialists from General surgery, Orthopedic surgery, Ear, Nose and Throat, Ophthalmology, Dentistry, Obstetrics and Gynaecology departments. The average working experience of respondents was 4.8 years (SD 4.454, range 0–39 years). 48.8% of the respondents said they obtained consent all the time surgery is done while 51.2% did not obtain consent all the time. Many of the respondents indicated that informed consent was not obtained by the surgeon who operated the patient but was obtained either at admission or by nurses in the surgical units. The consent forms used in the hospitals were found to be inadequate and many times signed at admission before diagnosing the patient’s disease.


Informed consent administration and documentation for surgical health care is still inadequate at University teaching hospitals in Uganda.

Informed consent practices; Surgery; Uganda