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Informed Consent is Your Right to Your Body

It’s ethical, logical and legally required

What is informed consent? 

Informed consent is the process when you as the patient are given important information by your doctor about a medical procedure, intervention, medication or treatment so that you can authorize a well-informed decision after understanding the diagnosis and all of the potential benefits and risks. 

Informed consent should involve: 

  • A licensed doctor, nurse or healthcare provider 
  • You as the patient to receive treatment or the patient’s surrogate, should the patient lack decision-making capabilities or if the patient declines to participate in making medical decisions
  • A medical diagnosis when determined by the doctor 
  • The doctor’s proposed treatment for the patient’s diagnosis and reasons that treatment has been recommended
  • All potential side effects, risks, and anticipated benefits of all options, including forgoing or declining treatment 
  • Clear communication of accurate and relevant information in a thoughtful manner sensitive to the needs of the patient

As the patient, you can have confidence to give your informed consent when a doctor takes time to tell you of all the risks and benefits of a recommended medication or procedure in a way that makes sense to you. 

Your informed consent should be authorized before receiving medical care, such as a shot, surgery, and treatment. Medical information to support your informed decision-making can be given in verbal and written formats.

 

Why is informed consent important? 

Informed consent is ethical, legal and logical. If you as the patient are unaware of all benefits and risks, including side effects, adverse consequences and even death, you are denied the ability to make the best decision for yourself, your health and how your life and health impacts those closest to you. 

Your doctor or healthcare provider should clearly communicate the long and short-term pros and cons of the treatment options before you. 

As the patient, you should also be provided with any new information that may impact your decision to continue with a treatment or on-going procedure, which is called Consent Process.

 

When you don’t feel able to make a truly informed decision

Although doctor offices can be busy places, caring about your health should be the priority. At any point during a visit, you have the right to ask questions to make sure you are fully aware of the benefits and risks of the procedure, medication or other medical intervention. 

If you feel uncomfortable or hesitant to authorize medical treatment for yourself (or your child), you will hear things from the healthcare provider such as:  

“There are no risks to this medication or procedure.” There are potential benefits and risks to every healthcare decision– the good and the bad. As the patient who’s receiving treatment or as the parent of a minor receiving treatment, you have the right to know the good, the bad and the ugly. 

“There are some risks but they never happen.” Using the term “never” should be an automatic red flag. While some risks, like death, are minimal, those risks are listed because they have happened to a past patient receiving the same treatment. Even over-the-counter medicines like Tylenol have potential side effects. 

Specific risks can be more probable for patients with certain health histories, so you have the right to know not only what the risks are but how often they may occur in patients. 

For example, you should know that a study conducted to evaluate the “risk factors for unsuccessful medical abortion with mifepristone and misoprostol” found that of the chemical abortions needing surgical intervention, leftover fetal tissue was confirmed in 89% of patients. Random leftover tissue, often referred to as retained products of conception (RPOC), in the uterus from a chemical abortion if left untreated can cause symptoms such as fever, infection, pain, enlarged uterus and postpartum hemorrhage. 

“I don’t know.” Modern medicine is always discovering more, and while your doctor may say, “I’m not sure” to your question, your doctor should then find an evidence-based answer to your questions through credible resources or another credentialed colleague. 

Feeling pressured to decide “yes” right now. At any point during your doctor visit, you can delay or refuse the recommended medical intervention if you determine it’s not in your best interest based on the information provided to you. 

Sometimes, feeling comfortable and confident to move forward with a procedure takes more time than the doctor’s office has allotted you. Know that you can always hit “pause” to leave your appointment, consider the treatment on your own timing and then schedule a follow-up appointment. 

At no point in your doctor’s visit should you feel pressured or rushed to make a specific decision, for or against a medical treatment. You shouldn’t feel like you are wasting your doctor’s time or that you sound stupid for asking questions. 

Your doctor is there to serve YOU and help you make the best healthcare decisions for yourself and those closest to you. 
 

What to do if you feel unable to make an informed decision with the information given

Be persistent to get your questions and concerns adequately addressed by your licensed healthcare provider if you don’t feel like you’ve been given all of the information to move forward. 

Ask your question again. Ask your question in a different way. 

If you still feel like your doctor is being limited in his or her responses or if you feel cut short in your conversation prior to treatment, you can: 

  • Ask to speak with another healthcare professional in the practice. 
  • Wait and reschedule your appointment to allow yourself time to gather better medical opinions, research or a second opinion. 
  • Reschedule your appointment and return with a trusted spouse, partner or friend to help hear and digest the information with you. 
  • Decline treatment and find another doctor to treat your condition. 

At the end of the day you have to live with the results of your healthcare decisions, so know your rights as a patient in EVERY situation that involves your health and wellbeing. 

 

Written by the HAPC Staff and reviewed by Daria DeRogatis-Smith, BSN, RN, graduate of George Mason University and 32 years of nursing experience.