As a patient you have your right to be well-informed about your illness, possible treatments, likely and unexpected outcomes and the right to refuse or consent treatment. The goal of asking for consent is to assure patient autonomy. As it is the right of patients to make decisions about their medical care without their health care provider trying to influence their decisions. Patient autonomy allows for health care providers to educate the patient but does not allow the health care provider to make the decision for the patient.

Types of Consent

Informed- Legally, this requires that the patient, or his/her surrogate, is informed of the risks, benefits, and alternatives to a treatment. A signature on the consent form provides legal documentation of consent.

Implied- is a consent which is not expressly granted by a person, but rather implicitly granted by a person’s actions and the facts and circumstances of a particular situation

For example, you obtain a patient’s informed consent for nursing procedures when you explain the procedure before proceeding. Eg: Vital signs taking or changing wound dressing. Though to be in the safe side always explain the procedure and document. While nurses’ deal with informed consent upon on admission to a hospital/clinic or for invasive or risky procedures by law only doctors should disclose enough information for the patient about medical procedures. Nurses typically are assigned the task of obtaining and witnessing written consent for healthcare treatment.

However, there are some instances that override the informed consent requirement. On an emergency when a patient cannot consent to treatment and delaying it could imperil his life and Therapeutic privilege when the law recognizes that some patient’s cannot cope with full disclosure about their condition and treatment.

Who May Give Informed Consent?

  • If the patient is competent, he or she may give consent or refuse treatment.
  • Patient must be conscious. However, in case of emergency situations and if it is impossible to ask for consent, the procedure required to benefit or save the patient’s life may be done with liability for failure to obtain consent. In such cases the law assumes the client would wish to be treated.
  • Patient is an adult (18 years old and above) or an emancipated minor.
  • Parents of pediatric patients. If parents are divorced the parent with legal custody must give consent.

Final Thoughts

As a nurse, you have an ethical responsibility to look out for the patient’s best interest. Having consent can avoid lawsuit but also make sure that he received sufficient information to make an informed decision. Not only have you acted as a patient advocate while meeting your legal obligations but you also have provided your patient’s right of autonomy.