Many medical procedures or treatments require the informed consent of the patient. States have different exact definitions of informed consent, but the concept generally requires medical professionals to give a patient the details of any medical procedure, surgery, or treatment. This includes a description of potential alternatives or risks as well as benefits. If you did not receive this information or did not give written consent to a course of treatment, you should consult with an attorney to explore whether you have a valid malpractice claim.
The principle of informed consent rests on the idea that every person has the right to determine how they should be treated. Therefore, doctors and other medical professionals are required to explain their actions and disclose all necessary information to patients so that an informed decision can be made. The failure to seek and obtain informed consent can lead to liability for negligence. In some cases, it can even be the basis for a criminal battery charge.
Your physician is the person best positioned to obtain your informed consent, because they generally know the issues at hand better than other professionals. Your physician should cover:
- Your diagnosis
- The proposed procedure or treatment and its chances of success
- The risks and benefits of the procedure, as well as any alternatives and their risks and benefits
- The prognosis if no action is taken
Your physician should also ensure that you understand this information. You should hear about any alternative, regardless of cost or insurance coverage. You or an authorized representative must sign any informed consent documents and receive a copy. Patients are also responsible to listen carefully and make clear when they do not understand a procedure or its risks and benefits.
Informed consent can be given in writing or verbally. This is called "express" consent. Express written consent must contain certain information such as the names of the patient and health care provider, and the time and location of the consent form's completion.
It is also possible to obtain "implied" consent, when a patient does not give verbal or written consent but their agreement is implied by circumstances. An example would be when a patient schedules a simple procedure or when a surgeon performs necessary tasks during surgery, even when patients do not consent to these individual procedures.
Some procedures do not require consent. Your doctor is not required to explain the benefits and risks of taking your pulse, for example. Informed consent is also not required when a doctor must act in an emergency. In these situations, it is assumed that patients would consent to necessary procedures.
Questions about informed consent become more difficult when they involve children or adults with mental disabilities. Often, mentally disabled persons have guardians who are authorized to make medical and legal decisions on their behalf. It is vital that medical professionals working with mentally disabled persons obtain informed consent from the appointed guardian. Generally, parents can consent on their child's behalf, but some states allow teenagers to participate more actively in the informed consent process. The teenagers must often meet a certain level of maturity in order to give consent without their parents. Informed consent laws often give young adults more latitude in the areas of substance abuse, sexuality, and mental health.
Informed consent is a vital part of the health care process. If you believe that you did not give informed consent to a procedure, or that your health care organization failed to obtain informed consent from a patient, you should immediately contact an attorney with experience in medical malpractice cases.