Doctors may think they know what’s best for us, and when it comes to medical treatment, they should. However, as patients, we still have the right to decide how an injury, illness or other medical condition will be treated and to make those decisions for our children and others for whom we are guardians.
Those decisions require informed consent. If we authorize a treatment or procedure (or decline it) without the opportunity to give informed consent and something goes wrong, we may have the right to hold the doctor liable for the harm caused.
What information must be provided?
For a doctor to make sure a patient gives informed consent, they need to do more than put a form in front of them to sign that they may or may not read or understand. They need to provide the following information about any recommended procedure or treatment:
- The nature and purpose of it
- The benefits and potential risks of having (or not having) that treatment
- Alternative procedures and treatments and their benefits and risks
This information must be provided in language the patient understands. That means using laymen’s terms rather than medical jargon. It’s also crucial for a doctor to make sure the patient gets the information in their native language if they’re not fluent in English. There are medical translators for these situations.
The New Jersey Department of Health includes informed consent and details what that includes in its list of patient rights. As patients, we can help ensure that we can provide informed consent by not hesitating to ask a doctor to slow down, use more understandable words and ask questions when we don’t understand something. However, many patients and their families hesitate to do that — particularly with a doctor whose bedside manner leaves much to be desired. They’re too often pushed into signing a consent form without fully understanding what they’ve consented to.
Proving that you didn’t provide informed consent to a procedure or treatment that harmed you – especially when there’s a signed document that says otherwise — can be challenging. It’s wise to seek legal guidance.