Be informed before you consent
Everyone is entitled to determine what happens with his or her health. That’s why health care professionals can’t do treatments or procedures without your agreement. Informed consent is a fundamental duty for any health care professional. Respecting patient autonomy means supporting their right to make informed choices.
In other areas, people often give consent without fully grasping what they’re agreeing to. Studies show that only 10% of people read terms and conditions before signing up online for products or services. In health, consent is more than just reading the fine print – it’s at the core of the standards for any health care profession.
Are you making the best decisions about your health? Here are three important principles about consent:
1. For consent to be valid, patients need sufficient information.
This includes knowing the nature of the treatment/procedure, expected benefits, alternative options, side effects (probable ones, and possible ones that can have serious consequences) and material risks. In other words, what potential results would a person need to know to make an informed decision to consent or refuse consent. Material risks include those that have a high severity or a high frequency. It’s also up to your doctor to discuss the likely consequences of not having the treatment/procedure.
2. Consent must be voluntary.
Nobody can force you to give consent. You’re entitled to ask questions, think about it, give your answer, and change your mind. Anyone can withdraw consent even after giving it.
3. The obligation is on the doctor.
Consent can be expressed (when you agree in writing or orally), or implied (like when you offer your arm for an injection or to draw blood). Either way, your doctor has to look for signs that you understand the information provided.
The bottom line is that you can’t consent without being informed. When visiting your doctor, remember that it is an ongoing process, where he or she carefully explains what’s going on and lets you be heard. This helps to ensure that you not only agree with it, but truly understand your care.
We recently passed a revised version of our Consent to Treatment policy, which emphasizes that consent is a process that involves a dialogue between the physician and the patient or substitute decision-maker; not simply a piece of paper to be signed.
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