Consent is a big topic these days and it’s important to know that consent is also an essential part of ethical health care.
Our textbooks are rife with footnotes documenting people who were unknowing and unwilling participants in the history and development of medicine. I’ll leave it to you to open those doors on your own, it’s a collection of incredibly terrible stories.
We need to be aware that many of the medical techniques that save lives every day and much of what we understand about the function of our bodies is based on experimentation. Some of this research was legal and ethical while others weren’t and relied on the suffering of countless people. Our goal now is to ensure that our practice truly does no harm.
Which brings us back to you, our patients - it’s important for you to know that consent for medical treatment exists to balance the power between practitioner and patient so that health care is not something that is done to you, but rather something you're participating in. Here are a few things to think about:
Consent is active: no treatment should begin until you say and it’s important for any patient in care anywhere to know that they are in control of it.
Consent is a choice: with complete knowledge of what treatment entails (what will happen during a treatment, potential risks, desired goal, etc). A treatment plan is offered by a practitioner based on their experience and training as the best choice, but there may be others based on what you’re more comfortable with.
Consent is a process: if you’re ever uncomfortable with any medical treatment you receive, you're allowed to stop it at any time. A course of treatments is a bit like a conversation as we work out the root of what is the source of pain or dysfunction. Sometimes one form of treatment can be uncomfortable, one technique or approach may be less effective than another so it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your practitioner so we can all make the process enjoyable and effective.
Some might say that a treatment is the culmination of a series of consents; from booking an appointment and showing up for it, filling out the paperwork agreeing to the treatment and settling into a chair or table. But because planning for something is different than doing it, no medical procedure should begin until you say “Ready”.
While it would be a cartoonish level of micromanagement to ask permission for every single needle we put in, it’s important that we still get consent for the treatment as a whole. But that treatment plan is always flexible and can adapt to fit your comfort, so if you want a particular needle taken out or you don’t want any needles in your feet just let us know.
Consent in healthcare isn't something we talk about that often.
As patients we often don't understand our rights and default to doing what we're told by health professionals. We need to know that the patient practitioner relationship is one of equals and that what happens to us is our choice.
We might not always get what we want, because we don't have the medical expertise to know what's medically appropriate for us. We rely on the knowledge and experience of our doctors and allied health practitioners to give us choices and offer what they feel is the best option for us. We still have the right to ask for some different choices (even though we still might not get them) and we're always free to refuse treatment we don't want.
Only if we take responsibility for our our own health can we truly have freedom of choice.
health care is not something that is done to you, but rather something you're participating in.