Informed Consent: Your Rights and Responsibility
When faced with a decision about your own or a loved one’s medical care, you are often overwhelmed by the sheer immensity or complexity of the situation. It is very tempting to accept a doctor or other medical care provider’s prescription for treatment and proceed directly. Many doctors are amazing – helping patients understand the scope of their condition, their treatment options, and why one recommended course would be better for them than another.
However, sometimes people are discouraged from asking questions or doing research that would make them more comfortable with the proposed treatment plan, or even expose them to options that have not been considered. Sadly, some care providers perceive that they are being “challenged” when a patient asks questions; others simply don’t take or make the time for a patient’s questions.
This type of situation is terribly unfortunate. It is only by communicating openly and fully with your care providers that you can make the decisions that best meet YOUR needs. Every person has the right to fully participate in all decisions regarding his or her own health care.
This legal doctrine is called the right to informed consent. The World Health Organization, the European Parliament, the American Hospital Association and many other organizations support and endorse the right of all people to make their own healthcare decisions in consultation with their caregivers.
The website http://www.informedmedicaldecisions.org is dedicated to supporting and educating people on their rights to actively participate in medical decision making.
As a patient or caregiver, you have the right and responsibility to obtain as much information as you need to be able to commit to a course of treatment or test process. Some questions/statements that can help get the information you need include:
• Can you explain this to me?
• Where can I get more information?
• Can you write this down? Draw me a picture?
• How is this helpful to me?
• Are there any risks involved?
• Can you recommend a safe alternative?
• What are the probable side effects? What percentage of people experience these side effects?
• Does my insurance cover this treatment?
• What is the time frame for this decision – immediately, days, weeks, months?
• If I choose not to go ahead with this recommendation, what would the consequences be?
• How much time would I have to get a second opinion?
• I want to think about this before I make a decision.
• I don’t feel comfortable with this recommendation.
• Is there any else I can do or try?
By becoming actively involved in your care, you are likely to be more satisfied with your decisions. Both patients and doctors benefit when patients are well-informed and play a significant role in deciding how they are going to treat or manage their health conditions.
Informed patients feel better about the decision process. Their decisions are more likely to match up with their preferences, values, and concerns. These patients are more likely to stick with the regimens the treatment requires, and they often end up rating their health after treatment as better.
Submitted by Debora Harvey, Patient Navigator