What Is Informed Consent?

Informed consent is the number one defense to medical malpractice cases.  Informed consent means that the physician informed the patient about the risks and complications of an operation and the patient willingly consented to those risks.  If the patient is informed of the risks of an operation and gives “informed consent” to the operation, then the physician cannot be faulted for the bad outcome of the operation.

Informed consent is most common in cases where a patient has a bad outcome after an operation.  For example, a patient has an operation on his back and after the operation, his pain and limitation in his back is ten times worse than before the operation.  The patient blames the physician for the bad outcome and wants to sue.

When a new client calls me with a bad outcome after an operation, my first question is: Did you sign an informed consent document before the operation?  In 99% of cases, the new client’s response is: “I signed a document, but I didn’t read it.”  Your failure to read the informed consent document is not an acceptable excuse for you.  In this scenario, the defense will be that the patient was informed of the risks and complications of the operation and consented to those risks.  This is very good defense and a case that I would never accept.

Here’s my advice to clients who are about to undergo an operation: Do not wait until the morning of the operation to read the informed consent document.  Insist upon a meeting with the surgeon before the day of the operation to discuss the risks of the operation.  Make sure you ask the surgeon whether there is a significant risk that the operation will not succeed or that your symptoms will actually be worse after the operation.  Also, review the informed consent document with the surgeon before the day of the operation.  If the surgeon refuses to meet with you to discuss the risks and complications of the operation, cancel the operation and find a new surgeon!  This is not a doctor that you want operating on you.

It is your responsibility as a patient to be fully informed of the risks of the operation.  If you don’t insist upon a meeting with your surgeon to discuss these risks, no one else will.  Take action to protect your rights.