What is the difference between informed consent and consent?

Consent is when an individual or entity gives another party the permission or authority to do something. It differs from informed consent because the person asking for consent may not have a legal obligation to provide information that could affect the person’s decision. For example, a police officer can ask you if they can search your vehicle. They do not have to tell you they are looking for drugs or alcohol.

The law, however, holds medical professionals to a higher standard because they would need to obtain the informed consent of their patients. If they were to recommend a specific surgery, treatment or medical procedure, they would have to explain the procedure, why the patient needs it and the material risks involved. They also need to disclose practical alternatives to their proposition.

Does a doctor always need to obtain informed consent?

A doctor or health care provider will not need to obtain informed consent for medical emergencies and unexpected circumstances that require immediate action to avoid death or serious damage to the patient. According to Pennsylvania law, a health care provider has a legal duty to obtain informed consent before performing surgery or inserting a surgical device or appliance. They also need a patient’s informed consent prior to administering any of the following:

  • Anesthesia
  • Radiation
  • Chemotherapy
  • Blood transfusion
  • Experimental medication

Furthermore, if a health care provider plans to use an experimental device or any approved medication in an experimental manner, they should also explain the benefits and applicable risks. The patient will be the one undergoing the procedure after all. They have a right to know.

A patient’s right to choose and refuse treatment

The patient has a right to choose and refuse treatment, but they can only make an informed decision once the health care provider gives all the relevant information. The health care provider cannot leave out information that could substantially influence the patient’s decision in any way.