Diagnosis, outcomes and alternatives provide the basis of Informed Consent
Before any of us receive any kind of health care, the attending practitioner must receive your informed consent. It’s a little more complicated than simply asking if it’s okay for a doctor to put their hands on you. Informed consent comes into play once the examination stage is complete and the health care provider is ready to report their findings. Clear communications about your diagnosis and recommended treatment leads to the process of informed consent. Simply put, this entails the patient approving the treatment after they have been fully briefed on the risks, benefits and alternatives.
As a patient, you must be informed before you can consent to any treatment. Informed consent must include:
1) Your diagnosis – This is the basis for any kind of treatment going forward and will provide clues for the type of treatment required.
2) The proposed care – What is the proposed treatment? How long is it expected to take? Are there any costs?
3) The risks and benefits – The benefits are easier to imagine as we all want to feel well as a result of treatment. The risks are just as important to discuss and must be clearly communicated.
4) Alternatives – Given your diagnosis, is this the only treatment that will help? If there are options that could provide equally or better outcomes, they must be presented.
Many health care providers are guilty of not providing alternatives to patients, though it is actually an obligation. Think about the last time you sought health care. Were you provided with options when it came to your treatment plan? Were you discouraged from certain treatments? Not all treatments work for everyone so it is important to know all of your options and it is the health care provider’s responsibility to communicate them to you. In some cases there may in fact only be one option, but it is always your choice to take it or not.
What if you’re unsure about the course of care that has been put forth? Maybe it involves drugs you don’t wish to take or surgery that poses significant risk. If you are questioning the treatment proposed, it is completely acceptable to refuse treatment to seek a second opinion. This could be someone within the same profession or a provider in another regulated health profession. The choice is always yours.
Informed consent applies to all health care you receive, whether you are getting a filling at the dentist or an adjustment from your family chiropractor. It’s not just about signing a form, it’s about ensuring you understand and acknowledge the treatment being proposed, the possible outcomes and alternative care that could be equally or more beneficial for your diagnosis.