Informed consent is a means of communication between you and your doctor or healthcare provider that usually leads to permission for services, treatment, or care. Informed consent is a legal and ethical obligation of U.S. medical practitioners and stems from your right to direct what happens to your body.
During the informed consent process, your healthcare provider should educate you about the benefits, risks, and alternatives of a procedure, testing, or surgical intervention.
As long as adult patients are cognizant and mentally capable of making decisions, they cannot receive medical care unless informed consent is given. According to the American Medical Association, patients have a right to make well-informed decisions about a doctor’s recommended treatments. This includes asking questions and receiving information prior to treatments and procedures.
Included in this information are the following informed consent requirements:
- Your condition’s name
- Your health care provider’s treatment or procedure recommendations
- The treatment or procedure’s risks and benefits
- Other reasonable alternatives for your healthcare which can include not receiving the treatment or procedure recommended
- The risks and benefits of suggested alternatives
- An assessment of how well you understand the recommendations and options
Your healthcare provider is obligated to make it clear to you that you are participating in the decision-making process and that you should not feel forced to agree with him or her.
What Is a Consent Form?
A consent form is a legal document that confirms continuous communication between you and your healthcare provider.
Signing informed consent confirms:
- Your healthcare provider has provided you with complete information regarding your treatment options.
- You have had the opportunity to ask questions and completely understand the information regarding your treatment.
- You may use this information to make decisions regarding how much care you wish to receive. You may choose to receive only a portion of the treatment recommended.
- You give your consent and your healthcare provider may proceed with the treatment plan.
State laws may list how you receive your treatment options (in writing or verbally, for example). Your healthcare provider will work with you to help come up with the best way to provide the information you need. He or she may utilize videos, audio files, web animation, or other methods to give you a better understanding of the treatments recommended for you.
What if Informed Consent Is Not Possible?
There may be situations that arise in which informed consent exceptions are made. These can include:
- A situation where you are incapacitated
- If your situation is life-threatening and there is no time to obtain consent
- If you voluntarily waive consent
In emergency situations, your healthcare provider may begin treatment without your consent. In these situations, your doctor should inform you as soon as possible and obtain consent for your treatment.
In non-emergency situations where you are unable to make decisions by yourself and there has been no one designated to make decisions for you, your state’s law will determine who should be your surrogate decision-maker based on a surrogate hierarchy.
When Informed Consent is Breached
If you believe you or a loved one were treated without providing informed consent, or if you didn’t fully understand the benefits, risks, and alternatives of your treatment, you may have recourse to some form of compensation. If a clear breach of informed consent can be demonstrated and you can directly link injury or suffering to that lack of informed consent, you may have a viable medical malpractice case. If you think you might have a case, contact a medical malpractice attorney to consult.