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College Healthcare Students: What’s Informed Consent in Healthcare?

Written by CB Community

Are you studying to be a healthcare professional?

There’s more to this career than simply helping patients!

Before a healthcare provider can admit a patient for treatment or treat the patient, they typically are required to obtain express consent.

The riskier a procedure a patient may have to undergo, the more important it is for a healthcare provider to get clear, informed consent.

A patient has the right to understand what medical treatment is being considered and also find out the possible consequences of said treatment.

Implied Consent and State Laws

States have their own laws about express and informed consent, but typically, a patient needs to be provided with information including:

  • The reason for admission or a treatment
  • The treatment being proposed
  • Risks, benefits, and side effects
  • Alternative options and their risks, benefits, and side effects
  • The dosage for medications being considered
  • Approximate length of care
  • The effects of ending treatment
  • How treatments being proposed will be monitored
  • That consent can be revoked before treatment begins

Implied consent isn’t directly stated and is, instead, it’s inferred by a circumstance.

For example, if you’re going to the emergency room, there may be implied consent.

Implied legal consent might arise if a surgeon determines another procedure is needed to make sure the intended surgery is successful in the middle of the procedure.

Implied consent can also apply to an attending physician who authorizes an emergency medical treatment they feel is lifesaving.

With those things in mind, the following are some other facts to understand about informed consent in healthcare and its implications.

The Ethics of Informed Consent

According to the American Medical Association, informed consent in medical treatment is important legally and ethically.

Patients have the right to receive information and ask questions about treatments being recommended so that they can make thoughtful, empowered decisions about their care.

The AMA says that communication fosters trust in the patient and physician relationship and supports shared decision-making.

Informed consent is a process occurring when communication between a patient and their physician leads to the authorization or agreement to undergo a certain intervention.

In emergencies, when a medical professional has to make an urgent decision, and the patient can’t participate in decision-making, nor can a surrogate, a physician can begin treatment without informed consent.

In these situations, the AMA dictates that the physician should inform the patient or their surrogate at the earliest chance and then get consent for treatment to continue.

In healthcare environments, informed consent lets patients participate in their own care, enabling them to decide on the treatments they want and don’t want.

It’s a collaborative process of decision-making.

Elements of Informed Consent

The elements of informed consent include, first, your ability to make a decision. Then, there’s the explanation of the information you need to make said decision.

The third element is your understanding of the information being presented, and the fourth element is your voluntary decision to receive treatment.

A wide variety of medical situations and treatments require informed consent, such as surgeries, blood transfusions, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Most vaccinations, some advanced medical tests, and anesthesia also require informed consent.

If you agree to a treatment or part of treatment, you’ll complete and sign a form of consent, which is a legal document.

When you sign a consent form, you’re indicating you received all of the needed and relevant information about a procedure from a healthcare provider.

You’re signaling that you understand the information, you used the information to make a decision, and you consent to get some or all of the treatment options.

Then, once you sign this, your healthcare provider can move forward.

Who Can Sign on Your Behalf?

If someone is younger than 18, their parent or guardian can consent on their behalf.

You might want someone else to make your future medical decisions, which means you’d fill out a form called an advance directive.

If you can’t give consent, then another person may be able to legally make decisions for you.

Medical Malpractice and Informed Consent

Having a career in health in medicine involves protecting yourself from liability.

Signing a form doesn’t mean on its own that a patient gave their informed consent.

If a doctor doesn’t get informed consent and a patient wouldn’t have chosen the treatment or procedure had they known about the risks, the patient might be able to sue their healthcare provider for medical malpractice.

When it comes to medical malpractice, states usually use one of two standards to determine if consent would have been important.

One standard is if other doctors would have disclosed a risk.

If a patient is injured and they’re suing their doctor, then a medical expert has to testify that other competent doctors in a similar situation would have informed the patient of the risk.

The doctor being sued will also, in theory, hire their own expert who will testify that another doctor wouldn’t have necessarily disclosed a particular risk to a patient.

Another element to be considered or a legal standard used is whether a patient would have made a different decision if they’d been informed of the risk.

Courts can ask whether a normal patient with the same conditions and medical history as a plaintiff would have changed their mind about treatment had a risk been disclosed.

When Is Informed Consent Not Required?

We talked about one situation where informed consent isn’t required—in a medical emergency, a physician may not have the time to go over risks and obtain consent, and they have to act as quickly as they can to save the life of a patient.

Patients can’t sue for lack of informed consent in this scenario.

The second situation where it wouldn’t be required is if a doctor knows a patient is going through so much distress that they will refuse treatment.

If a doctor feels like a patient would become overly anxious, they may be able to withhold some information, but they must be able to show a clear reason why they didn’t share information about certain risks.

Finally, if a doctor performs a different procedure after getting consent for another one, even if the alternative procedure was successful, the patient may be able to sue.

The claim will only be successful if the additional or differing procedure wasn’t necessary or was a mistake.

Consent is an important aspect of becoming a doctor or medical professional that you should consider if you are studying in this field.

About the author

CB Community

Passionate members of the College Basics community that include students, essay writers, consultants and beyond. Please note, while community content has passed our editorial guidelines, we do not endorse any product or service contained in these articles which may also include links for which College Basics is compensated.