Informed Consent: The Doctor-Patient Relationship

(Originally posted on bcotoronto.com on Nov 10th, 2011)

Last week when we were talking about Carpal Tunnel Syndrome we delved a little into the idea of doing research and asking questions of our doctors to learn about other options for treatment. This is a part of a larger idea in healthcare called “Informed Consent”. Informed Consent exists as a protection of the rights of the patient and is a necessary component of any doctor’s visit. This process consists of three parts; Benefits, Risks, and Alternatives.

It seems common sense that any doctor is going to talk about the benefits of the treatment they are recommending. This is the part that very few doctors ever miss. The next two sections are not observed as often.

Everyone has the right to feel safe and make decisions that directly relate to their own safety. This is where the second part comes in and plays a significant role. The risks associated with any therapy, be that modern or alternative medicine, need to be presented to us as patients so that we can make a truly informed decision about our health and what we feel comfortable doing and having done.

The third part of the Informed Consent process is providing reasonable alternatives to the treatment proposed. This way we, as the patients, can have an active role in deciding our treatment. This is often overlooked, in both modern and traditional medicines, due to either bias or lack of knowledge but it is the doctor’s responsibility to provide us with this information.

This is a difficult concept for a lot of people in the western world to wrap our heads around but we have to remember, the patient has the control in the doctor-patient relationship not the doctor. What happens to our body is our choice. We always have the right to say, “NO!” and ask for other options. All treatments are voluntary and we can always stop something we are not comfortable with.

Doctors are in the only service industry in the world where the customers have been successfully convinced that they are powerless. This is not to say that we should question absolutely everything our doctors do and say. They do have the knowledge and the experience we don’t to present us with the best option available within their specialty. But somewhere along the way we the patients forgot our right to know exactly what is going to happen and our right to choose. So if your doctor doesn’t tell you all the information about a procedure or drug, ask. It’s your body. It’s your decision.

Thanks for reading,
Dr. Ben

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