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Informed consent: What every medical professional should remember

A patient's informed consent to treatment isn't just a legal formality that has to be gotten out of the way as quickly as possible. It's an important process and very much part of every medical professional's ethical obligation toward their patients.

How can you make sure that you live up to those ethical obligations with your own patients? Follow these guidelines regarding consent:

1. Improve your "bedside manner."

You never want to make a patient feel pressured into consent. Take care not to sound like you are dictating a course of treatment. Deciding how to proceed with treatment should be a collaboration.

2. Give the patient all the information you can.

A patient can't truly give informed consent without adequate information. Don't just discuss the benefits of treatment. Discuss alternative treatments, potential risks that can be expected, serious (even if unlikely) dangers and any extra considerations that may apply to this patient.

3. Do not make guarantees.

Assurances and guarantees can be misleading and cause patients to accept risks with their medical care that they wouldn't otherwise.

4. Remember that consent can always be revoked.

It doesn't matter what document a patient has signed or how much you believe that a particular therapy or procedure is in their best interests. Patients always have the right to revoke consent. If a patient expresses any hesitation about a procedure, ask if you should stop.

Failing to understand the importance of informed consent -- or treating it like an afterthought instead of an important process -- can expose medical professionals to numerous legal hazards. Among them, a medical professional can face questions from the licensing board about their ethics when a patient complains that the consent process was inadequate or rushed. That could put your license to practice on the line.

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