What is Informed Consent?

What is Informed Consent?

Ever have a doctor recommend surgery or a test in the office?  Did he (proper grammar, not being prejudiced) take the time to explain the reasons for the test, possible complications and the risks?

Informed consent is more than just signing your name to a piece of paper.  Proper informed consent should include a discussion of;

  1. the reason for the procedure and its potential benefits (e.g. you may get better)
  2. alternatives to this treatment or test including consequences of choosing NOT to have the procedure
  3. possible complications
  4. the risks involved, or rather, the chances that these complications might occur

The purpose of informed consent is to allow you to make an educated choice about your health care.  It allows you to participate in your own care once you clearly understand your situation and your options.  Proper informed consent assumes that the discussion of the items above did take place, that you understand your treatment and options and then, and only then, you are giving permission to proceed.

Example of proper informed consent;

“As your doctor Ms. Jones, I recommend that you have cataract surgery to your right eye.  Cataract surgery should improve your vision and it is expected that you will see better than you do now.  It is possible that your blurry vision is actually from something else such as a retinal problem, but from my examination I feel that this will help you.  The procedure will take less than 30 minutes and will be performed under topical anesthesia as an outpatient.  Your anesthesia provider will meet with you prior to the operation.  Possible complications of the surgery include blindness from intraocular infection, bleeding or retinal detachment.  The risks of these complications are very rare and may occur less than 1% of the time, but I feel that you should be aware that complications can occur.  If you do not want to have surgery at this time, it is likely that your vision will continue to deteriorate making it even more difficult to drive, watch TV or read.”

Example of improper informed consent (and probably won’t stand up in court);

“Ms. Jones please sign here.  It gives us permission to do your surgery.”

Remember that your doctor should take the time to go through this explanation.  If he does not, then ask questions.  If he still does not take the time, the feel free to find another doctor.

Technically, informed consent should be obtained prior to any procedure or diagnostic test where complications may occur.

Hope this was helpful,

Randall V. Wong, M.D.
Retinal Specialist/Ophthalmologist

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