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Informed consent - adults

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What is Informed Consent?

You have the right to help decide what medical care you want to receive. By law, your health care providers must explain your health condition and treatment choices to you.

Informed consent means:

To obtain your informed consent, your provider may talk with you about the treatment. Then you will read a description of it and sign a form. This is written informed consent.

Or, your provider may explain a treatment to you and then ask if you agree to have the treatment. Not all medical treatments require written informed consent.

What Treatments Need Informed Consent?

Medical procedures that may require you to give written informed consent include:

What Should Occur During the Informed Consent Process?

When asking for your informed consent, your doctor or other provider must explain:

You should have enough information to make a decision about your treatment. Your provider should also make sure you understand the information. One way a provider may do this is by asking you to repeat the information back in your own words.

If you would like more details about your treatment choices, ask your provider where to look. There are many trusted websites and other resources your provider can give you, including certified decision aids.

What is Your Role in the Informed Consent Process?

You are an important member of your health care team. You should ask questions about anything you do not understand. If you need your provider to explain something in a different way, ask them to do so. Using a certified decision aid may be helpful.

You have the right to refuse treatment if you are able to understand your health condition, your treatment options, and the risks and benefits of each option. Your doctor or other health care provider may tell you they do not think this is the best choice for you. But, your providers should not try to force you to have a treatment you do not want to have.

It is important to be involved in the informed consent process. After all, you are the one who will receive the treatment if you give your consent.

Other Tips

Informed consent is not needed in an emergency when delayed treatment would be dangerous.

Some people are no longer able to make an informed decision, such as someone with advanced Alzheimer disease or someone in a coma. In both cases, the person would not be able to understand information to decide what medical care they want. In these types of situations, the provider would try to obtain informed consent for treatment from a surrogate, or substitute decision-maker.

Even when your provider does not ask for your written consent, you should still be told what tests or treatments are being done and why. For example:

References

Emanuel EJ. Bioethics in the practice of medicine. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 2.

United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Informed consent. www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/guidance/informed-consent/index.html. Accessed December 5, 2019.

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Review Date: 9/29/2019  

Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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