Certain medical treatments have decades of evidence supporting their use. Doctors know that individuals with strep throat will typically respond to specific antibiotics, for example. Medical research helps establish the efficacy and safety of different medical treatments.
However, when someone has an unusual condition or a severe medical issue, standard medical treatments may not be the best option. Some individuals will benefit from undergoing new treatments that are still experimental.
New treatments often involve more risk
It takes time to determine the benefits and long-term effects of a specific treatment. A doctor developing a new cosmetic surgery, for example, will need to perform that procedure dozens of times to perfect it.
Until the procedure is no longer experimental and has widespread acceptance regarding its safety and effectiveness, medical professionals must inform patients about the unapproved status of their treatment or procedure. Unfortunately, not all medical professionals take the time they should to secure informed consent from their patients.
When is informed consent necessary?
Federal law requires that doctors inform patients in detail of possible adverse medical reactions to experimental treatment. They also generally need to provide basic information, including manufacturer literature, about approved treatments and procedures.
A patient with cystic acne about to undergo an Accutane regimen should know about the potential birth defects associated with the medication if someone becomes pregnant while taking the drug. Someone undergoing a procedure that is likely to fail, like an experimental skin graft, needs information even more than someone undergoing a standard and accepted treatment.
Doctors generally need to provide in-depth information to patients to whom they recommend experimental procedures. Typically, these patients will need to sign something affirming that they have received adequate information about the procedure. However, doctors may rush a patient through the informed consent process without ever telling them the risks.
If you had no idea that you would need to take anti-rejection medication for the rest of your life or that the off-label use of a drug could cause specific side effects, your doctor’s deviation from best practices and failure to secure informed consent may be to blame. Patients who do not have the necessary information about treatment cannot provide informed consent.
Holding a doctor accountable for misrepresenting the treatment they recommended could involve a medical malpractice lawsuit or a claim against their insurance.