Guide to informed consent for medical procedures

Medical Consent with Laptop and stethoscope

Going to the doctor’s office is never easy. For some patients, routine visits are so stressful that they suffer from what the medical profession calls “white coat syndrome.” This is when the blood pressure readings at your doctor’s office are higher than they are anywhere else. It’s called white coat syndrome because it’s (jokingly) said that the mere sight of the white coats worn by medical professionals causes some patients’ blood pressure to spike. The stress level only heightens in the case of an ER visit, leading to a whirlwind of emotions that make it hard to concentrate on and decipher the information coming your way. 

Now imagine being asked to sign a legal document like an informed consent form under such conditions. They can seem complicated and threatening, but you need to participate in your own medical care as much as possible, and this is why states have informed consent laws. 

What is informed consent? 

Informed consent refers to what a doctor must tell you before you undergo almost any medical procedure. It is both an ethical and legal requirement for healthcare professionals, and it means that you get to decide which treatments you do or do not want to receive. Typically, your doctor, nurse, or another care provider will explain your medical treatment to you before you agree to it – allowing you to ask questions and accept or deny that treatment.

According to Maryland’s common law doctrine of informed consent, a “mentally competent adult is entitled to give or withhold consent to medical treatment after receiving a fair and reasonable explanation of the proposed treatment.”  

What types of procedures require informed consent? 

The following treatments require informed consent:• Most surgeries• Blood transfusions• Use of anesthesia• Radiation treatment• Chemotherapy• Certain advanced medical tests such as a biopsies• Most vaccinations• Select blood tests, like HIV testing

Before any of these treatments can be administered, your healthcare professional, whether it’s a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or any licensed medical provider must provide you with a diagnosis of your condition, the name, and purpose of the treatment recommended, its benefits and risks and a full explanation of alternative procedures if any are applicable.

Once your options have been laid out for you, you can agree to all of it, some of it, or none of it. After you make the decision, you will be required to complete and sign a consent form. This form is a legal document that confirms your participation in the decision and your agreement to have the procedure(s) performed. This document verifies that you understand what the doctor feels is necessary to provide the best care possible. 

But remember that you have the right to refuse treatment. If the doctor(s) or medical facility makes you feel rushed or uncomfortable, or if you have further questions, do not sign any forms until you’re comfortable. 

Ask about a patient advocate before signing an informed consent form

If your options have been explained to you but you’re still not sure, ask if your hospital has a patient advocate on staff. Most hospitals cannot receive certain accreditations unless they make patient advocates available to go over the forms in detail with you and better explain what is being asked of you. 

Signing a medical consent form does not free your doctor of all liability 

While many patients believe that signing a form means that they’ve relinquished all of their rights, this is untrue. Your signature on a consent form means that you’ve allowed your doctor to perform a procedure based on your knowledge and understanding of that particular procedure and the other options. You are still legally required to receive ethical and professional care. Do not falsely assume that you have no legal rights simply because you signed a form. 

If you feel that something went wrong during a medical procedure, or if you’re unsure about the information you were given prior to treatment, you may have a case – even if you signed a consent form. Contact the Law Offices of Nicholas Parr in Baltimore, MD today with any questions or to discuss your case. We don’t receive a fee unless we win.