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What is informed consent?

Most New Mexico patients may have heard about having to consent to a treatment, procedure or surgery before doctors can take action. However, patients may not know or understand what informed consent actually means.

By law, doctors and health care providers must give all patients an explanation of their condition and of all of the treatment choices available. By giving doctors their consent, patients are essentially legally giving doctors permission to provide them with their chosen treatment. In many cases, the patient will be required to sign a form, which gives the health care providers written informed consent.

There are several things that a patient's healthcare provider is responsible for discussing while seeking informed consent from the patient. First, the doctor should explain the health problem to the patient. Next, the doctor may discuss a treatment option, which should include the potential risks, what will happen during the treatment or procedure and the potential prognosis in addition to any potential side effects. In order to ensure that the patient is properly informed, the doctor may have the patient repeat the information before getting their signature. Patients should always remember that they have the right to refuse consent and to ask questions if they do not understand.

In cases of emergency or if the person is unable to consent, such as if they are in a coma, for example, health care professionals can make informed decisions for their patients without consent. However, patients or their family members should be told what treatment was given and why. If health care providers fail to do this or fail to seek informed consent, patients may wish to discuss with an attorney the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit against the providers.

Source: Medline Plus, "Informed consent - adults", November 13, 2014

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