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Informed consent

When it comes to having an operation or test which involves risk, you (or your parent/guardian) need to give what is called 'informed consent'. Informed consent requires your health professional to discuss with you or your parent/guardian the benefits and risks of each alternative treatment option and significant potential complications that are associated with the procedure. This is so that you can choose the option that is most likely to suit your needs.

Before you give informed consent ask your doctor these three simple questions:

  1. What are my treatment options?

    The discussion with your health professional should include information about each of the treatment options, including non-surgical options, different types of surgery and choices of medical devices, ongoing lifestyle modification and the likely consequences of not having any treatment or procedure at all.

  2. What are the expected outcomes for each option including complications?

    Successful treatment can never be absolutely assured and different procedures carry different risks. You need to be aware of the potential good and bad outcomes of each treatment option, including known surgical, short and long term complications, so that you can decide which of the treatments is best for you.

  3. What is the likelihood each outcome will occur, including success and complications?

    The likelihood of success and complications varies with each treatment option and with individual patient characteristics such as age, weight and other health conditions. You need to know how likely it is that the treatment will improve your condition and how often complications occur so that you can weigh up the risks and benefits and decide which option best suits your circumstances.

    Where treatments are new or uncommon there may not be sufficient research (also called clinical trial evidence) to be able to accurately estimate the likelihood of success or complications. If this occurs, your doctor will make recommendations based on other information such as personal surgical experience, training or expert knowledge. It's important that you discuss with your health professional the basis for their recommendation.

    If you're unsure about the information you're given, ask as many questions as you need before you give consent. If you aren't getting sufficient information you should consider getting a second opinion. There are lots of other places you can access health information as well, but you have to make sure that it is accurate and reliable. This information should be used in conjunction with information from your doctor, not replace it. If information from other sources contradicts or varies significantly from information provided by your doctor, discuss the variation with your doctor. If you're still concerned you may want to seek a second opinion.

    Even after you've given informed consent you can decide not to proceed with the treatment at any time by advising your health professional.

    The only time informed consent is not required is in an emergency where the patient is unconscious or otherwise unable to give consent. In these circumstances consent is deemed to have been given.

Informed financial consent

Sometimes the treatment option you choose will have a financial impact either in terms of out-of-pocket expenses, ongoing cost of consumables (where a medical device has been implanted) or ongoing cost of medications such as anticoagulants. Before agreeing to a procedure, you should ask your doctor for information about these costs.

If you're a member of a private health fund and need a prosthesis or medical device implanted, there will almost always be at least one type of device available to you that does not require you to pay a gap fee - that is the fund will pay the whole cost of the device. If your clinician recommends a device other than a "no gap" device, then a gap may be payable and your doctor and hospital are required to inform you of the amount of the gap and gain your informed financial consent before implanting the device.

Next: Making decisions

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2011

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