A medical consent form is a vehicle for the documentation of an informed consent process. During an informed consent process, a physician or other health-care provider communicates to a patient all of the relevant facts regarding a specific medical intervention. The patient must have the capacity to make a reasonable and rational decision, and the physician must disclose all known or foreseeable material facts, implications, and consequences of the proposed treatment. Once the patient has received the information and asked questions to elicit clarification or better understanding, he signs the form to acknowledge that the process occurred. The medical consent form specifically lists all of the items covered in the meeting.
In order to facilitate the informed consent process, the physician constructs a medical consent form that includes information about the patient’s condition or diagnosis as well as the treatment that he recommends. He describes in writing the proposed procedure and the associated risks, benefits, and alternatives of the procedure. In addition, risks and benefits of alternative treatments are given. Finally, the doctor discusses the risks of not going forward with the treatment. Statutes in all 50 states of the United States mandate this process.
The medical consent form cannot list every possible risk of a given procedure. Some risks and complications are not known. Others are extremely rare or not foreseeable. Informed consent means that the most common and the most serious risks be disclosed, as well as risks that would particularly apply to or impact the individual patient.
In the eyes of the law, most adults are deemed competent to make their own decisions regarding medical treatment. Exceptions include patients with mental illness or impaired consciousness. In such cases, a family member or legal guardian may execute the medical consent form on behalf of the patient. In emergency situations, the physician may simply proceed with the procedure, acting in the best interests of the patient, if he cannot obtain a signed consent form from the patient or authorized representative.
Failure to obtain informed consent in a non-emergency situation may open the doctor to a charge of assault and battery. The patient must understand, at the very least, the nature and purpose of the procedure in order to avoid a legitimate claim of assault and battery. Failure to provide the other components of informed consent may justify a charge of negligence on the physician’s part. This charge, however, only applies to circumstances where an injury occurred and the patient can reasonably assert that he would not have proceeded with the treatment had he been fully informed of the risks. In many cases, a signed medical consent form protects the physician from allegations that he did not obtain informed consent.