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Putting the "info" in "informed consent"

When you are suffering from an illness or injury, sometimes there are a number of treatment options available. Other times, the choice may be between only two methods, or perhaps there's only one available medical procedure, operation or medication to address your issue. Maybe the first option has a higher likelihood of success while the second is less painful, or perhaps a medication may be highly effective but could have side effects that you would find unbearable. The point is that you, the patient, should be the one to decide.

You are the one experiencing the injury or illness with all its symptoms, so you are the only one who can choose which potential outcome is right for you. Doctors have a legal obligation to provide this information to you because only you have the right to choose what happens to your body. When they fail to provide you with all the relevant facts, it's not only harmful to you as a patient, it's a crime.

What is informed consent?

The American Medical Association states that a patient has the right to make an informed decision about whether he or she wishes to receive a certain treatment, and the individual can do so only with enough information about the benefits and possible side effects of any treatment. Essentially, you are the one who decides whether the risk of a worst-case scenario is worth the possible benefits of a best-case scenario. This, then, is informed consent.

However, you cannot make an informed decision if you do not have all the relevant information. The AMA's statement on factors that comprise informed consent lists:

  • The diagnosis, if known
  • The nature and purpose of the procedure or treatment
  • Both the benefits and the risks of the treatment or procedure
  • Any possible alternatives to the procedure or treatment
  • The benefits and risks of these alternatives
  • The benefits and risks of foregoing the procedure or treatment entirely

Your doctor's job is to provide you with all relevant information so that you can give informed consent. In fact, if a doctor fails to obtain informed consent and you suffer as a result, the law could consider this criminal negligence.

Why informed consent is important

Unfortunately, the subject of informed consent can be more complex than it initially appears. Not only do laws vary from state to state, but medical institutions often compile their own lists of procedures, treatments and operations that require informed consent, as not all situations call for it.

Not only is this confusing for patients, it can be outright dangerous, as research indicates a higher survival rate and a more positive outcome overall for patients who feel empowered about their health care choices. Informed consent also means that, in the unfortunate event that something does go wrong, patients aren't left shocked and confused, trapped in a situation they didn't anticipate in their worst nightmares.

Why doctors don't always get informed consent and what to do about it

The health care system is sadly overburdened. Doctors sometimes feel rushed or limited in the time they can spend with each patient, and sometimes, they may be just careless. The patients themselves may or may not know what questions to ask, or they may not be aware that they have the right to demand more information or even refuse treatments that a provider has recommended.

At the end of the day, though, these are all just excuses. It is a doctor's legal and professional responsibility to obtain informed consent in each and every case in which it is necessary and beneficial to you, the patient. If you or your loved one does suffer unforeseen injury or experiences serious adverse consequences because a doctor failed to fully inform you of all the risks and potential negative outcomes of a dangerous procedure, there are resources in Indianapolis that can help you explore your rights and options.

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