What is informed consent?

Informed consent is the process by which the treating health care provider discloses appropriate information to a competent patient so that the patient may make a voluntary choice to accept or refuse treatment. (Appelbaum, 2007)1   It originates from the legal and ethical right the patient has to direct what happens to her body and from the ethical duty of the physician to involve the patient in her health care.

What are the elements of full informed consent?

The most important goal of informed consent is that the patient has an opportunity to be an informed participant in her health care decisions. It is generally accepted that informed consent includes a discussion of the following elements:

  • The nature of the decision/procedure
  • Reasonable alternatives to the proposed intervention
  • The relevant risks, benefits, and uncertainties related to each alternative
  • Assessment of patient understanding
  • The acceptance of the intervention by the patient

In order for the patient’s consent to be valid, she must be considered competent to make the decision at hand and her consent must be voluntary. It is easy for coercive situations to arise in medicine. Patients often feel powerless and vulnerable. To encourage voluntariness, the physician can make clear to the patient that she is participating in a decision-making process, not merely signing a form. With this understanding, the informed consent process should be seen as an invitation for the patient to participate in health care decisions. The physician is also generally obligated to provide a recommendation and share his reasoning process with the patient. Comprehension on the part of the patient is equally as important as the information provided. Consequently, the discussion should be carried on in layperson’s terms and the patient’s understanding should be assessed along the way.

Source; University of Washington

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