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Questions and Answers

What is informed consent?

         Informed consent is the process by which fully informed patients can participate in choices about Their healthcare. It originates from the legal and ethical right the patient has to direct what happens to her body and from the ethical duty of the physician to involve the patient in her health care.

What are the elements of full informed consent?

         The most important goal of informed consent is that patients have an opportunity to be an informed participant in his health care decisions. It is generally accepted that complete informed consent includes a discussion of the following elements:

the nature of the decision/procedure
reasonable alternatives to the proposed intervention
the relevant risks, benefits, and uncertainties related to each alternative
assessment of patient understanding
the acceptance of the intervention by the patient
In order for the patient's consent to be valid, he must be considered competent to make the decision at hand and his consent must be voluntary. It is easy for coercive situations to arise in medicine. Patients often feel powerless and vulnerable. To encourage voluntariness, the physician can make clear to the patient that he is participating in a decision, not merely signing a form. With this understanding, the informed consent process should be seen as an invitation to him to participate in his health care decisions. The physician is also generally obligated to provide a recommendation and share her reasoning process with the patient. Comprehension on the part of the patient is equally as important as the information provided. Consequently, the discussion should be carried on in layperson's terms and the patient's understanding should be assessed along the way.
Basic consent entails letting the patient know what you would like to do and asking them if that will be all right. Basic consent is appropriate, for example, when drawing blood. Decisions that merit this sort of basic informed consent process require a low-level of patient involvement because there is a high-level of community consensus.

What sorts of interventions require informed consent?

         Most health care institutions, have policies that state which health interventions require a signed consent form. For example, surgery, anesthesia, and other invasive procedures are usually in this category. These signed forms are really the culmination of a dialogue required to foster the patient's informed participation in the clinical decision.

         For a wide range of decisions, written consent is neither required or needed, but some meaningful discussion is needed. For instance, a man contemplating having a prostate-specific antigen screen for prostate cancer should know the relevant arguments for and against this screening test, discussed in layman's terms.

         Informed consent is the process by which fully informed patients can participate in choices about their healthcare.

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