Informed Healthcare Decisions


Imagine if you will for a moment, that you’re going in for a medical procedure, you are handed a consent form, told to read it, sign it, and the person who handed it to you walks away. Would you believe that people still sign consent forms without explanation? ‘Blindly’ signing away, without question, without hearing their options, exactly what’s being done, risks, or benefits.

When we take our car in for service, we make sure we understand what service will be done, what it will cost, and that it was completely properly, correct? So why don’t people take that much time on themselves? Why do patients ‘short change’ themselves?

Often times fear is the culprit—fear of knowing the truth, fear of not knowing what to ask, or fear of questioning their physician. I’ve seen all of the above!

Consenting to something means one is supposed to be informed about it. Consent is not just about the piece of paper to be signed, but rather it’s about the conversation that’s supposed to take place before the paper is signed, and any ongoing conversations needed moving forward. Informed consent should include:

Diagnosis of what’s wrong
Planned treatment or procedure
Who will be performing/providing the proposed treatment or procedure
Benefits and risks of planned treatment or procedure
Alternatives/options available
Benefits and risk of alternatives to the proposed treatment or procedure
Patient’s understanding of the information provided

One cannot adequately make an informed decision if they’re uninformed, or in-the-dark. Knowledge is power—in this case, power to accept or decline a treatment or procedure. Consenting to something doesn’t mean it’s a ‘one and done’ conversation, either. Sometimes circumstances change, questions come up—don’t be afraid to ask them!

When facing a decision—healthcare or otherwise—organize your thoughts, concerns, and questions. An easy way to do this is by using a simple spiral notebook from a dollar store. Write down your questions, goals, thoughts, and concerns—and bring this notebook to all appointments for reference. Take notes! Ask your questions! Don’t be afraid to express your concerns! And, bring support for yourself—someone to be another set of eyes and ears for you, support you, encourage you, and advocate for you.

Being fully informed is your right.

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About Janet Belford

Janet Belford, RN, CLNC, has been a registered nurse for over 24 years, having worked in the pediatric and adult patient populations in critical care, outpatient, case management, and hospice. She is also a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant. She brings to the table a passion about patient rights, informed consent, healthcare integrity, domestic violence, patient and family education, mentoring for fellow nurses, and end-of-life care. It is part of Janet’s mission to ‘be real’ with patients and families, not shy away from ‘difficult conversations,’ and to advocate for patient rights.

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