Anyone who has undergone even the most minor of medical treatments likely remembers being handed a clipboard with paperwork to review and sign. Included in that stack of forms is one asking the patient to agree to the procedure before it is done. This is called providing informed consent.

The key word here, though, is “informed.” Before performing any medical procedure, doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals must ensure a patient understands enough about the treatment to be able to make a proper decision about whether or not to go through with it.

This is important for two reasons. The first is that patients have the legal right to control what is done to their body. They can refuse any treatment, for any reason, regardless of whether or not a doctor believes it is the right course of action. A medical professional who ignores a patient’s refusal of care and goes ahead with a procedure anyway could be liable for battery and face a medical malpractice lawsuit, or may even be charged with a crime.

The second reason is that most, if not all, medical treatments carry a risk of side effects and complications. In some instances, a treatment may not resolve the patient’s condition. Because of this, patients must be given enough information to effectively weigh the risks and benefits before undergoing the procedure. By failing to give the patient all the facts, a doctor could be found professionally negligent if something were to go wrong.

Simply handing a patient a form to sign in advance of a procedure isn’t enough. A doctor must obtain the patient’s informed consent.

According to the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics, the doctor has the responsibility for obtaining the patient’s informed consent, meaning that the patient must understand:

  • The specific diagnosis, if it’s known,
  • The purpose of the treatment or procedure and what it entails,
  • The risks and benefits of going ahead with the treatment or procedure,
  • Any alternatives to the suggested treatment or procedure, and their risks and benefits, and
  • The risks and benefits of refusing the treatment or procedure

If a doctor does not clearly explain all of this to a patient, he or she has not obtained informed consent and could be liable for anything that goes wrong if the patient did not understand the specifics of the treatment, consequences, and possible outcomes and dangers.

Obtaining informed consent is crucial to providing quality medical care. The attorneys in Sommers Schwartz’s Medical Malpractice Litigation Group have extensive experience in these and other types of professional negligence lawsuits and are ready to speak with you if you’ve been harmed as the result of a doctor or health care provider’s error or neglect.