Every physician who plans to practice human medicine after graduation from medical school takes the Hippocratic Oath. They agree to avoid doing harm to their patients above all else and to treat every patient the same regardless of their background or beliefs. The doctors who abide by their Hippocratic Oath will do their best to provide the highest possible standard of treatment for individual patients and to fully invest themselves in every case. Sadly, not every medical professional will display the same level of attention and devotion to their patients.
Some will recommend treatment options that are lucrative or simple for them but possibly more dangerous for the patient. In scenarios where a patient is about to undergo potentially dangerous medical treatment, doctors should seek to obtain informed consent ahead of time. Failure to obtain that consent could constitute medical malpractice.
When is informed consent necessary?
From an ethical standpoint, informed consent is necessary for any and all treatment, as all medical intervention has some degree of risk and a possibility of failure. However, the amount of burden on a doctor to explain the risks involved to a patient may change in different circumstances.
For example, when a doctor recommends the treatment that is considered the most effective and least invasive about which there is plenty of literature available, their obligation to make thorough disclosures to a patient about every risk may not be that significant. If a doctor recommends a more invasive or riskier treatment or possibly unapproved treatment modalities still in the research stage, then it is of the utmost importance that the physician properly conveys to the patient the risks they assume by accepting the treatment plan.
What is informed consent?
Securing informed consent should involve educating a patient about the recommendation and possibly about alternatives. From explaining the possibility of failure and catastrophic side effects to an exploration of what recovery will look like, doctors should provide patients with plenty of information about experimental or unconventional treatments, especially if there are safer options available.
Simply having a patient sign a form is not the same thing as educating them about the care that they will receive and ensuring they make an informed decision. Patients who were unaware of the risk involved in the treatment their doctor recommended may sometimes be in a position to bring a claim of malpractice against that physician.
Seeking legal guidance to better understand what constitutes informed consent and when a doctor should obtain it might help those who believe a doctor violated professionally-accepted standards of care in their case.