One of the most important relationships you will establish will be between you and a physician. It is a unique relationship built on trust, accountability, empathy, collaboration, and, most importantly, communication. As a patient, you rely on your physician to provide you with the utmost professionalism in care and communication, maintain confidentiality, explain options for treatment, and obtain informed consent for any procedures. It is ultimately the only way for the relationship to work.
What is Informed Consent?
According to the American Medical Association (AMA), the purpose of informed consent is that it’s the fundamental core to medical treatment for both ethics of the physician and the laws they must follow. Patients have the right to receive the appropriate and necessary information regarding their health treatments to make the best decision about their care.
Communication between doctor and patient is critical to understanding all the patient’s options when discussing treatment. The trust and support from the physician should be enough for the patient to authorize a specific medical procedure. Failing to obtain patient consent or the consent of the patient’s surrogate (family member) can have serious legal consequences in medical malpractice cases.
Obtaining Informed Consent
Physicians have criteria to obtain informed consent from a patient, including:
- Assessing patient’s comprehension of their condition and treatment options
- Present accurate and relevant healthcare information, including:
- Recommended options of treatment;
- Risks involved with the course of treatment; and
- Document the conversation with the patient’s (or surrogate’s) decision in the medical record
In an emergency, physicians have the power and authority to begin treatment without informed consent when neither the patient nor the surrogate can engage in the decision-making process. However, in those cases, the physician has a duty to inform the patient (or surrogate) at the earliest opportunity. During this conversation, the physician must obtain consent for ongoing treatment to maintain ethical and legal responsibilities.
What Happens With A Lack of Informed Consent?
Surgery inherently involves risk and potential side effects. If surgery occurs without informed consent from the patient and the patient suffers an injury, there are serious legal implications for the physician. At other times, the physician may perform surgery with flawless execution but still be liable for medical malpractice if they did not obtain full informed consent.
A lack of informed consent could happen for many reasons, including:
- Insufficient information: Healthcare providers fail to disclose necessary information about treatment or procedure fully, and the patient isn’t able to completely understand the risks involved.
- Coercion or pressure: Patients may feel pressured or coerced into consent without fully understanding the implications and risks. This may be due to the power structure of the doctor-patient relationship, time constraints, or inadequate communication from the physician.
- Language or cultural barriers: The AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics explains that the physician must provide the information in a language or format that the individual can understand or for cultural norms and beliefs to be observed. If not, it can impede the patient’s ability to provide informed consent.
- Incapacity: The individual must have the cognitive capacity to understand the information and make decisions. In cases where individuals lack decision-making capacity due to age, mental illness, or cognitive impairment, the physician must obtain consent from a surrogate or legally authorized representative.
When a physician does not follow the medical consent process and performs the treatment or procedure, the physician has violated the patient’s right to decide on their own body. This level of medical malpractice cannot be ignored, opening the possibility of taking legal action against the doctor and/or the hospital.
Understanding Informed Consent in Indiana
Under Indiana law, informed consent is a vital component of the patient-provider relationship. The Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, outlined in Title 34, Article 18, Chapter 7 of the Indiana Code, sets the framework for informed consent requirements. Healthcare providers are obligated to disclose relevant information to patients, ensuring they understand the nature, purpose, risks, benefits, and alternatives of the proposed treatment or procedure.
Consulting with a Medical Malpractice Attorney
Navigating the complexities of medical malpractice cases involving inadequate informed consent can be challenging. Patients often receive consent forms shortly before a procedure or operation, leaving little time for a thorough review. However, it is the patient’s responsibility to read the consent form prior to any procedure. If any questions or concerns arise regarding the listed risks, it is crucial for patients to request a discussion with a doctor to gain clarity and fully understand the potential risks involved.
If you believe you or a loved one has suffered harm due to a lack of proper informed consent, it is crucial to consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. They can evaluate the specific circumstances of your case, guide you through the legal process, and help determine the appropriate legal recourse to pursue.
To be successful, your lack of informed consent attorney must prove that a reasonable person would not consent to treatment had they been aware of the risks or existence of alternative therapies not disclosed to them.
Inadequate informed consent can have significant legal implications. Patients have the right to be fully informed about their medical treatments or procedures, and failure to obtain informed consent may lead to medical malpractice claims.
If you feel you are a victim of a lack of informed consent, it’s essential to seek legal representation from a medical malpractice firm. An experienced attorney can help you understand your legal options and hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. In addition to seeking legal recourse, working with healthcare providers is important to ensure you receive the appropriate medical care and support.
To schedule a free consultation, call us at 317-566-9600 (Indianapolis), 765-865-9300 (Kokomo), or 812-566-2600 (Bloomington), or complete our online inquiry form to schedule an appointment* with one of our health professional attorneys to review your case. We hope to hear from you if you were harmed through medical treatments or neglect. We have offices in Indianapolis, Kokomo, and Bloomington to serve you.
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