Informed Consent

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How will I be given information for an informed consent?

The way in which information about the treatment must be given (for example, verbally or in writing) may be listed in your state’s laws. Other methods such as videos, audio files, interactive computer modules, booklets, fact sheets, etc may be used by your doctor or facility to make the information easier to understand. The most important thing is that you understand and are allowed to get answers to your questions, so that you have all the information you need as you consider your decision.

Sometimes, a person other than the doctor who will be giving the treatment is asked to give you the information for your informed consent. If this person is unable to answer your questions to your satisfaction, you may want to wait to sign the consent form until you can talk to someone who can answer your questions more completely.

How much detail should I expect?

Material information: Informed consent requires disclosure of “material” (significant or important) information that will help the patient make an informed choice. The law defines material information in 2 ways:

  • The professional’s point of view: In this view, the health provider’s responsibility is limited to telling you those things that a health professional who works in your community would tell you under the same or similar circumstances.
  • The patient’s point of view: A patient-oriented standard of disclosure means that the health provider must tell you all the facts, risks, and alternatives that a reasonable person in your situation would find important in deciding whether to have a recommended treatment.

Some of the material information a patient wants may not be available. For example, the long-term risks of a new method of treatment may not be known. If this is the case, the spirit of the laws of informed consent require the health provider to give the best answer possible, which may be “we don’t know that yet.”

Limited knowledge shouldn’t stop you from asking questions at whatever level of detail you want. Some people want to know as much as possible about their treatment or procedure before they agree to it, while others want to know very little. Again, the doctor may not have all the information you’d like, but at least you can find out more about what is and isn’t known.

What if I am having trouble understanding the information?

Informed consent is not only the health provider’s responsibility. It’s your job to be sure that you understand the information you have been given, even if it means going over the information many times.

Sometimes health care workers use words that are very hard to understand. Ask the doctor to define words and explain terms. Be sure to tell him or her what you understand and what you don’t. Sometimes it helps to have a nurse, social worker, or patient advocate with you. They may be able to re-phrase and explain things in ways that are clearer to you.

If you are facing an important health decision, it may be also helpful to bring a spouse, relative, or friend with you. That way, there will be a second listener to help process the information and ask questions.

Last Medical Review: 07/27/2012
Last Revised: 07/27/2012