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Is Informed Patient Consent Always Necessary Before a Medical Procedure?

Surgeon wearing a medical mask

A cornerstone of our healthcare system and its regulations is informed patient consent. The ideal situation is that every patient will always know all the details about every medical treatment, procedure, or prescription their doctor recommends before proceeding with them. However, informed patient consent is not always present when a medical procedure is performed, and it is not always legally necessary.

Lifesaving Procedures Can Be Done Then & There

When a patient gives their truly informed consent, they are first given ample time to discuss and understand recommended medical treatments. It can take some back and forth between a patient and their doctor before the patient feels informed enough to allow or disallow a procedure.

It makes sense, then, that lifesaving procedures in emergency situations would not typically involve informed patient consent. When a patient is brought to an emergency room, medical professionals there are tasked with making on-the-spot decisions about what to do to save that patient’s life and stabilize them. There is hardly enough time to create a complete plan of treatment, so there is no time to explain everything and get the signed consent of the patient.

It is also not unusual for a patient in the emergency room to be unconscious or delirious. There is no possibility in such cases to get a clear response of consent from the patient. Yet this does not legally stop the emergency care professionals from taking whatever action they see fit.

Emotional Fragility or Lack of Mental Capacity

Along the same lines of thinking, a patient who is emotionally fragile and severely distraught may be provided medical care without first given their fully informed consent. If a patient cannot be trusted to make a clear decision due to a lack of clarity or mental capacity, then the responsibility may fall on the medical providers to make those judgment calls for them.

Not every detail needs to be told to a patient who is emotionally fragile, either. Medical providers can choose to omit certain details of treatment that they think would trigger an irrational reaction from the patient given their history. For example, if a patient needs a procedure that includes an injection from a large syringe but they have a phobia of needles, then that step of the procedure could be omitted, assuming the patient would also be unconscious during the administration of the injection. In such cases, it is also assumed that a family member of the patient would be provided the full details of the recommended medical treatments in an aside, creating the chance for a third party to evaluate the situation and potentially interject.

Is Lack of Informed Consent Always Medical Malpractice?

Informed consent is ideal, but it is not always legally required. To this end, there are situations when a medical provider could perform a medical procedure on you without your informed consent and you would not be given an opportunity to sue for medical malpractice.

You should not decide on your own if you have a valid lack of informed consent lawsuit on your hands, though. First, consult with a medical malpractice attorney who is familiar with your state’s laws regarding patient rights and medical liability. They can tell you if your case is worth pursuing.