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Tests and Treatments

Informed consent - adults

You have the right to help decide what medical care is best for you. By law, your health care providers must explain your health condition and treatment choices to you.

Informed consent means:

  • You are informed. You have received information about your health condition and treatment options.
  • You understand your health condition and treatment options.
  • You are able to decide what health care treatment you want to receive and give your consent to receive it.

To obtain your informed consent, your provider may talk with you about the treatment. Then you will read a description of it and sign a form. This is written informed consent.

Or, your provider may explain a treatment to you. They will ask if you agree to have the treatment. Not all medical treatments require written informed consent.

What Treatments Need Informed Consent?
What Should Occur During the Informed Consent Process?
What is Your Role in the Informed Consent Process?
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Informed consent is not needed in an emergency when delayed treatment would be dangerous.

Some people are no longer able to make an informed decision, such as someone with advanced Alzheimer disease or someone in a coma. In both cases, the person would not be able to understand information to decide what medical care they want. In these types of situations, the provider would try to obtain informed consent for treatment from a surrogate, or substitute decision-maker.

Even when your provider does not ask for your written consent, you should still be told what tests or treatments are being done and why. For example:

  • Before they have the test, men should know the pros, cons, and the reasons for a PSA blood test that screens for prostate cancer.
  • Women should know the pros, cons, and the reasons for a Pap test, a mammogram, or other tests.
  • Anyone who is being tested for an infection that occurs after sexual contact should be told about the test and why they are being tested.

References

Emanuel EJ. Bioethics in the practice of medicine. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 2.

United States Department of Health and Human Services website. Informed consent. www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/guidance/informed-consent/index.html. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Review Date: 11/20/2017

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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