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What if I didn't give my doctor informed consent in California?

Doctors are often required to obtain informed consent from a patient prior to treating that patient. Informed consent occurs when a patient provides his or her written consent to a course of treatment after the medical provider informs the patient of the risks, benefits and possible alternative procedures. Informed consent is a critical touchstone of proper patient care based on the underlying premise that patients should have decision-making power over their medical treatment, and medical providers ought to disclose all information necessary for a patient to make an informed and responsible decision.

Prior to obtaining informed consent, a physician should discuss the patient's diagnosis with him or her, as well as the purposes of the intended course of treatment. A physician must explain these concepts in terms that the patient can understand.

Physicians do not always have to obtain informed consent. Under the emergency exception, physicians may proceed with life-saving treatment if the patient cannot give consent. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when a doctor is performing a routine and simple act like checking someone's heartbeat with a stethoscope, the doctor does not have to obtain informed consent, but the patient must still agree to the procedure.

A patient may give informed consent informally through discussions with his or her doctor about treatment, or formally, via a written consent form. In California, patients must provide written consent for treatment of prostate cancer, breast cancer, gynecological cancers, as well as for sterilizations and hysterectomies.

If a doctor treats a patient with a lack of informed consent, this may constitute negligence and may subject the doctor to a medical malpractice lawsuit. It is important for a patient to know all of his or her options for both medical treatment, as well as any legal options available if a patient has not received proper and thorough care.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Understanding Informed Consent - A Primer," accessed March 24, 2015

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