Medical Malpractice and Informed Consent: Patient Rights and Physician Responsibilities

Generally speaking, medical malpractice claims seek compensation for the negligent actions of medical professionals or entities that cause harm.  These actions can take many forms, including errors, omissions, disregard, and carelessness that fall short of the duty of care owed by medical professionals to patients. One of these potential omissions or abuses involves informed consent, or more specifically the failure to obtain or provide informed consent. Let’s look at patient rights and physician responsibilities surrounding this important aspect of the medical profession’s responsibilities.

Among the many rights that patients have is the right to informed consent. Informed consent is the foundation of patients’ decision-making process. When physicians provide patients with comprehensive information about their diagnosis, proposed treatment, expected outcomes, and potential risks, they help patients make informed choices and inspire trust. But informed consent goes beyond promoting transparency: It is also how physicians protect themselves against medical malpractice claims.

Informed consent has two sides: Patients’ rights and physicians’ responsibilities.

Patients’ rights include:

  • The right to comprehensive information about their condition, proposed treatments, benefits of treatments, potential risks, and alternatives (including no treatment at all.)
  • The right to ask questions to ensure they understand the information they’ve been provided.
  • The right to refuse the treatment and/or to withdraw consent at any point.
  • The right to make their own informed decisions about their care.

Physicians’ responsibilities include:

  • Informing patients with complete, clear information about their condition, proposed treatments, benefits of treatments, potential risks, and alternatives (including no treatment at all.)
  • Ensuring that patients fully understand the information they’ve been given, using easy-to-understand language, visual aids, and anything else needed to answer questions.
  • Documenting the information they’ve provided and the informed consent that they’ve received.
  • Making sure that the informed consent they’ve received was provided voluntarily.

The importance of informed consent becomes clearest when a physician fails to provide it or the patient doesn’t consent. In those cases, when injuries occur, the patient or their survivors can file a medical malpractice claim asserting that they would not have agreed to the treatment had they been properly informed of the risks or outcomes.

A medical malpractice claim surrounding informed consent may argue that the information provided was inadequate and that the lack of informed consent directly resulted in the harm they suffered. To be successful, this causation must be established.  The victim must also show that a reasonable person in the position’s place and provided proper informed consent would have declined the treatment.

If you or someone you love has suffered an injury or harm following medical treatment and you believe that informed consent was not properly provided, our experienced attorneys can help. Contact us today to learn more.