While patients typically rely on doctors to recommend the best treatment for illness or injury, ultimately, patients are the ones who make most medical decisions on their own behalf (with the exception of minors and those who are legally incapacitated). In some cases, patients will opt to get a second opinion from another physician. However, before an adult patient consents to any procedure or treatment (with exceptions around emergency care), doctors are required by law to get their “informed consent.”
There’s much more to informed consent than handing a patient a form and telling them where to sign. When a doctor recommends any procedure or treatment, they’re required to give the patient information about it, including:
- Its purpose and nature
- The risks and benefits of having it and of not having it
- Alternatives treatments and the risks and benefits of each
New Jersey law also states that “the doctor must tell the patient not only about the alternatives that the doctor recommends, but also about all medically reasonable alternatives that the doctor does not recommend.”
The information must be understandable
Doctors need to provide that information in language a patient will understand. Too many doctors zip through explanations using a lot of medical jargon, and patients are often hesitant to ask them to slow down and explain any terms they don’t know or to ask questions at all. You have a right to do that – no matter how rushed your doctor appears to be.
Informed consent and physician responsibility for harm
New Jersey law states, “A doctor is responsible for any injuries suffered by the patient, if the doctor did not adequately explain all medically reasonable courses of treatment, including non-treatment, in what the doctor knows or should know to be the patient’s medical position or condition.”
It can be challenging to prove that you didn’t give informed consent if you signed a document stating that you did. That’s why it’s always important to read and understand any document before you sign it. However, it is undeniably stressful it is to be in a hospital or other medical environment and be handed a clipboard full of papers to sign and initial. If you believe you suffered harm due to lack of truly informed consent or any medical error or negligence, it’s wise to get legal guidance to better explore your rights and options under the law.