Informed Consent Is More Than A Signature

Informed Consent Is More Than A Signature

What Every Patient NEEDS TO Know

You have probably heard the term “informed consent” and may have even signed a consent form before having a procedure or going under anesthesia. But do you know what informed consent is and why it is important?

“Informed consent” is much more than a standard form you sign before the start of certain medical treatment or surgery. It is the communication process a doctor uses to give you the information you need to fully understand the risks and benefits of a proposed procedure or medical intervention as well as offering options or alternatives to the proposed procedure or treatment. Informed consent provides you with the opportunity to participate and engage in decisions that affect your healthcare. You have the right to fully understand what the recommended treatment or surgery entails, all alternative treatments (including those more aggressive and/more conservative) as well as the risks and benefits of each alternative, before deciding to agree to a treatment plan. Informed consent means that the decision to proceed with a medical treatment is a joint one between a provider and patient made after the provider has supplied the information needed for the patient to make an informed decision.

There are just a few exceptions to informed consent such as life-threatening emergencies or incapacitation, but, outside of those, informed consent is an integral part of your treatment decisions. Informed consent is also not just limited to a standardized written form. The doctor should also have a discussion with you and offer the opportunity for you to ask questions so you have a clear understanding of all options. Unfortunately, while informed consent is required, its importance and function are often not well understood or adequately explained.

In fact, one surgeon wrote, “…unfortunately, we have a fundamental problem with informed consent as it is practiced today. What could be a platform to promote the idea of “nothing about me without me” has devolved into a perfunctory exercise by medical personnel to ensure the “chart” has the proper paperwork. Meanwhile consent forms are often completed with patients being minutes away from a procedure, commonly supine, and even sometimes sedated.”

As a patient, here is what you need to know:

Informed consent applies in a number of medical treatment scenarios. Examples are surgery, blood transfusions, clinical trials, anesthesia, radiation, chemotherapy, biopsies or other tissue-collection tests, many vaccinations, and even some blood tests (like HIV testing).

Informed consent should include, at a minimum:

  • A diagnosis of the condition being treated.
  • The treatment name and its specific purpose.
  • Information on benefits and potential risks and any alternative treatment options with their risks and benefits.

As a patient, you also have the right to know who is performing a procedure. If your surgery is at a teaching hospital with a residency program, a resident may be performing some or all of your operation under supervision.

You have the right to say “no.” Your signature on an informed consent document is your participation in your healthcare decisions, not a foregone conclusion. Before the start of your treatment or surgery, even if you have already signed the consent form, you have the right to pursue alternate treatment options or seek a second opinion. If you are not comfortable with someone other than your physician performing a procedure, you have the right to say so and discuss options with your provider. Understanding that informed consent is an important communication exchange and not just a standard form to sign will help you better advocate for yourself should the time come. Asking questions is your best defense, but it is your doctor’s responsibility to share adequate, unbiased information with you. If you have experienced negative consequences as a result of not fully understanding the risks of a treatment or not being informed of alternative treatments, contact us.

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About The Author

A seasoned trial attorney, Attorney Wickenheiser has advocated for victims and their families injured because of medical malpractice, nursing home death, pharmaceutical liability, and product liability. She focuses her practice on representing those who have suffered catastrophic injury and has successfully negotiated numerous settlements, many over a million dollars. She has received many prestigious awards and recognitions. Attorney Wickenheiser is licensed to practice law in Massachusetts.