As adult patients, we have the right to decide how a medical condition or injury will be treated (with the exception of some emergency situations). We can go along with our doctor’s recommendation, ask to hear about alternatives and get a second opinion.
However, if we give our okay for a treatment or procedure, we must be able to give “informed consent.” Doctors have a responsibility to make sure that their patients have the necessary information.
Among the things patients need to be told about any recommended treatment or procedure are:
- Its nature and purpose
- Its risks and benefits
- The risks and benefits of not having the treatment or procedure
Informed consent also requires doctors to tell patients about alternative treatments and procedures, along with the risks and benefits associated with each. Doctors shouldn’t limit their recommendations to what the patient’s insurance will cover or what they can afford.
Using understandable language is key
Doctors need to provide this information in language their patients can understand. That means not just in a language other than English if necessary. It means in “laymen’s terms” rather than what may be the medical terminology.
Too many people hesitate to ask for a simpler explanation because they don’t want to appear unintelligent or they figure they’ll Google the terms later. Ask for clarification from your doctor.
Depending on the treatment or procedure – for example, when surgery is involved – you may be required to sign a document stating that you’ve been provided informed consent. Many people, inundated by forms at the hospital or a doctor’s office, sign everything without reading it over. Don’t sign away your right to be given the information to which you’re entitled.
How New Jersey describes “informed consent”
Each state has its own informed consent laws. New Jersey’s Department of Health states that patients have the right to “an understandable explanation from your physician of your complete medical condition including recommended treatment, expected results, risks and reasonable alternatives” and to give “informed written consent.”
Proving that consent was not truly informed can sometimes be tricky – particularly if you signed something. However, if you believe that you or a loved one were harmed because of the lack of informed consent, it’s wise to seek legal guidance to find out if you may have a case of medical malpractice.