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What is the Patient’s Right to Informed Consent?

Written by Berkowitz

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When a patient signs a consent form at the doctor’s office or the hospital, he or she is agreeing to treatment. But, most do not realize the legal importance of that document, or what it means if something were to go wrong. When physicians recommend a course of treatment for the patient, they are required to explain the benefits as well as the risks associated with that treatment. Failure to do so means that the patient was not properly informed before consenting, which opens the door to a malpractice lawsuit.

Why Is There an Informed Consent Requirement?

Informed consent is what ensures that a patient makes an informed decision about healthcare. A patient can only make that decision once he or she has been presented with all relevant information. If a physician fails to receive real informed consent, this is negligence.

Patients have the right to know what treatment is likely to be successful, as well as the potential side-effects. They also should request answers to any other pertinent questions. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), six levels are required to meet the demands of informed consent:

  1. The patient must have a confirmed diagnosis;
  2. The type of treatment must be described, as well as its purpose;
  3. The patient must know the risks and benefits of that treatment;
  4. There should be alternatives (if any) presented to the patient;
  5. The patient must be aware of the risk and benefits to those alternative options;
  6. And the patient must know the risks and benefits of skipping treatment altogether.

Most patients are unaware of their right to receive informed consent, or they trust their physician enough to heed to their advice. Therefore, they don’t ask these questions.

The Patients’ Responsibility

While it is the doctor’s duty to present the patient with all of the relevant information, it is also the patient’s responsibility to ask about potential outcomes for the treatment, understand the diagnosis, and know the risks if he or she forgoes treatment options.

Exceptions to Informed Consent

There are instances where physicians do not need informed consent and are not considered negligent. These examples include:

  • When the patient is a minor. In this case, it would be the child’s parents who would receive and give informed consent.
  • A patient is suffering from a life-threatening emergency, and he or she is unconscious. Therefore, he or she cannot give consent. In this case, a doctor would have to make a medical decision on the patient’s behalf.
  • Patients who suffer from dementia or other conditions and cannot give consent. Therefore, doctors must obtain informed consent from a family member.

Informed Consent Protects Everyone

Informed consent is not there to scare patients. Instead, it is a layer of protection so that patients do not receive treatments that pose significant risks. It is also to serve as a layer of protection for the doctor. By retrieving informed consent, the doctor can now proceed without worry that a patient will sue later.

Were You Treated Without Consent?

While informed consent is required, not all physicians obtain valid informed consent. There are instances where a doctor will leave out details – including potential risks – and treat a patient with consent. If you feel that you were not given the right information before agreeing or you never gave your consent for treatment, you may be able to sue that physician for malpractice.

Contact Berkowitz and Hanna LLC today to schedule a no-obligation case evaluation. Contact us online to get started with your malpractice claim.