Informed Consent is a critical aspect of healthcare too often ignored by patients and providers alike.
Informed consent is a process by which a patient is provided information and the opportunity to discuss a medical procedure or service with their physician and others with whom they would like to talk before undergoing the procedure. Basically, the process is in place to ensure that patients can make thoughtful and informed decisions about their own medical care, or the medical care of their children.
Many people do not give a lot of thought to the boilerplate consent forms they are provided during medical visits. Like HIPAA disclosure forms, consent forms are signed and dated as part of registration for an office visit or a surgical procedure.
While signing a consent form is an important part of the consent process, it does not necessarily infer that a patient provided their “informed” consent to a procedure, especially one where serious complications can occur.
While routine healthcare does not require a detailed consenting process, an invasive surgical procedure does. As well, in an emergency, or after a traumatic injury, informed consent may not be possible.
For surgery, or an event such as childbirth, informed consent is critical. A patient may consent to a nerve block during a procedure, only to find after the surgery, they have lost partial or full function of a limb. Individuals with back pain may be advised to try a steroid injection in the spine as a means to relieve pain and avoid complex spinal surgery. Yet, if the injection causes a small bleed in the epidural space of the spine that is not relieved quickly, paralysis below the injection level may occur if the spinal cord is compressed by a blood clot.
A bad outcome from any of these procedures does not necessarily mean that a physician breached a standard of care. Complications, which are unfortunate, known possibilities of most procedures, do not necessarily mean malpractice. These instances underscore the critical need for informed consent—whereby the patient is fully aware of potential complications they may suffer as a result of a procedure they elect to undergo.
Factors that healthcare providers should consider when obtaining informed consent include:
- Language or other barriers that make real understanding or true consent impossible
- Personal, religious, cultural or other values that impede the ability of the patient to make a thoughtful, informed decision about a serious medical procedure
- The ability and capacity of a patient to understand a planned procedure and consent to the procedure with knowledge of possible bad outcomes
- The overall level of understanding of a patient when a procedure has been fully explained—is the patient knowledgeable enough to provide consent?
Federal and state regulatory agencies are charged with enforcing rules for healthcare licensees to obtain informed consent from their patients. These laws protect patients who are not fully advised of a procedure that causes a life-altering complication or serious injury. If you are unexpectedly harmed as a result of a procedure that was not fully disclosed to you prior to the treatment—speak with our legal team about your injury.
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