Before someone undergoes a medical procedure, the medical professionals performing the procedure should let him or her know about the risks and benefits of the operation, as well as alternative treatments, if there are any. Receiving this information allows patients to make informed decisions about whether or not they want to take the risk.
Informed consent is making that educated decision to undergo the treatment in spite of the risk of negative outcomes.
Informed consent laws
Not all doctors get informed consent from their patients before performing a procedure, but not all procedures require informed consent. All 50 states have laws that mandate some type of informed consent, but these laws vary from state to state. This lack of consistency makes it difficult to have a streamlined or standardized process when it comes to examining informed consent and cases of medical malpractice. It also makes it difficult for patients to feel empowered in decision-making about their medical care.
Parameters of informed consent
The American Medical Association lists directives about what physicians should do to obtain informed consent from their patients. These steps include not only telling the patient about his or her diagnosis, the nature and purpose of the recommended interventions, and the risks of the various options available to the patient (including not receiving treatment), but also an assessment of how well the patient is able to understand this information. These components are all important, even in and of themselves. For example, a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose that results in injury to a patient could form the basis of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Informed consent should start with a frank and open discussion between the physician and the patient. While physicians have the responsibility to educate and instruct, patients have the right and responsibility to ask any and all questions they may have, in order to feel they can make a properly informed decision about treatment.