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Informed consent is about more than just signing a form

For medical professionals, the life-and-death choices associated practicing medicine are simply part of their daily work obligations. They know the risks involved in certain forms of treatment and might assume that patients won’t really have to worry about the worst-case scenario because their other patients have not experienced negative outcomes in re: a particular kind of treatment before.

Therefore, physicians may fail in their duty to communicate with and educate their patients about the risks related to different types of treatment. Whether a physician recommends surgery, experimental medical treatments or drugs that have an association with severe side effects, they will typically need to obtain informed consent from a patient before initiating a particular treatment protocol.

All too often, physicians simply have their office staff hand over a pamphlet and a form and then act as though the patient has provided truly informed consent. But, ultimately, those who end up enduring a negative outcome after signing a document asserting that they have provided informed consent can sometimes raise claims that they were unable to give informed consent because of these circumstances.

What does informed consent require?

Informed consent should be an ongoing dialogue between a patient and their doctor. Physicians suggesting a specific treatment modality will need to discuss their suggestions in depth with the patient. The absolute minimum for informed consent would involve telling a patient about the possible side effects, educating them about the success and failure rates for the suggested treatment and informing them about the alternate methods of treatment that may have less risk or a greater chance of success.

Especially when patients are desperate for a reprieve from debilitating symptoms, they may rush through such conversations or fail to assert themselves because what they want more than anything else in the moment is relief and that desire prevents them from fully considering the circumstances. Physicians should consider not only a patient’s current mental state but their understanding of complex medical ideas when communicating with them to ensure they understand the risks.

Although it can prove challenging to do so, it may be possible for a patient who underwent a procedure without truly providing informed consent to take action against the healthcare provider or facility that rushed them through the process without actually educating them about the possible risks. As a result, recognizing when healthcare professionals have deviated from best practices may benefit patients coping with negative consequences related to complications from treatment.