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Why patients should receive informed consent

Medical patients should understand the possible risks that come with any treatment for their illness, condition or injury. A failure on the part of a West Virginia physician to relay this information can result in a patient agreeing to a treatment that can result in harm or injury.

According to the American Medical Association, informed consent is essential for a patient to make the best decision for his or her care.

How informed consent works

The process of informed consent involves telling the patient the current diagnosis of the patient's condition and then describe the treatments that are available to handle the patient's condition, including the nature and the purpose of such treatments.

From there the patient must be told about the benefits and the risks of the procedure, as well as the possible burdens of undergoing treatment. Additionally, the physician should lay out what could happen if the patient refuses the procedure.

This information plus the written consent of the patient should be documented in the patient's medical record. In the event a patient is incapable of making decisions on his or her own, it is up to a surrogate acting on behalf of the patient to review the information and provide the consent for the patient to undergo the procedure.

Informed consent can only be given if the patient understands the doctor

An important aspect of informed consent is the patient's ability to understand what the physician says about the medical procedure. The physician should not use jargon that is too confusing to the patient. At the same time, the doctor should accurately present all the information. Just because the doctor has to simplify certain terminology does not mean the doctor can omit certain information to do so.

Is informed consent required?

Informed consent is not required, however, in emergencies where the patient is incapable of making decisions due to a serious and life threatening injury. Should the patient regain consciousness or is lucid enough to comprehend information, the doctor should inform the patient about treatments and gain consent for ongoing and future treatments.

The Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute cautions that doctors or health care facilities who do not properly disclose risks to a patient can be held liable if the patient suffers an injury. If the patient understood the risks involved, the patient may have elected not to undergo the procedure. It is the legal responsibility of any health care provider to make the risks and burdens of a medical procedure understandable to the patient. 

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