What You Need to Know About Informed Consent

Close up of doctor and patient talking.

Informed consent supports the right of a patient to make decisions about his or her own healthcare. It gives a patient the information needed to understand a specific medical or surgical procedure. The patient can then decide whether or not to have the procedure. In the U.S,. informed consent laws vary from state to state. You can ask hospital staff for help if you need more information.

Who will you talk to about informed consent?

The healthcare provider who is recommending the treatment is usually the one to discuss informed consent. This discussion should take place before any treatment is scheduled. During the discussion, the healthcare provider will go over the recommended treatment with you and the reasons for it. The healthcare provider must include information about likely risks or complications that can happen because of the treatment. Ask any questions you have at this time.

What medical procedures need informed consent?

In each state, the procedures that require informed consent are different. Some common procedures that may need informed consent include surgery and anesthesia. The consent form expires within a set amount of time. You may need to sign more than one consent form before treatment.

What should you expect to find on an informed consent form?

The following information should be included on a consent form:

  • Patient name

  • Date

  • Description of the treatment or procedure

  • Possible risks and/or benefits associated with the treatment or procedure

  • Possible risks and/or benefits associated with refusing the treatment or procedure

  • Alternative choices to having the procedure (if any) and any associated risks or benefits

  • Place for the patient or legal guardian of patient to acknowledge that he or she was given adequate information and the chance to have questions answered

  • Place for the patient’s or legal guardian’s signature to accept the recommended treatment

Who may sign the informed consent?

For a consent to be valid, the patient must be considered able to make decisions. The consent must also be voluntary: 

  • Patients under the age of 18 are considered minors. They must have a parent or legal guardian sign their consent forms. The exception to this rule would be in the case of "emancipated minors." These are patients under the age of 18 who have the legal right to make their own healthcare decisions. 

  • Patients over the age of 18 are considered adults. They have the right to make their own healthcare decisions unless they cannot because of impaired mental function.

  • Patients over the age of 18 who are unable to make their own decisions must have an appointed guardian sign their consent forms.

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