Individual healthcare practitioners and practices start their doctor-patient relationships by requiring each patient to sign a consent form before the first date of treatment. This form essentially informs the patient of the type of treatment, the risks and benefits of said treatment, and requests the patient to consent to said treatment, after providing any and all necessary information to the office.
Good consent forms fully inform and protect both the practitioner and the patient.
Practices should not use a standard or “boilerplate” consent form. The form should be tailored to each practice, their specialty, and type of treatment. If a practice has not recently updated their consent forms, it is highly recommended to have it reviewed in order to ensure that it contains the necessary language to protect and limit the practice’s liability.
A solid consent form should include the following:
- Describing the type of treatment that will be rendered;
- The foreseeable risks, benefits, and alternatives to the treatment being rendered;
- Language about the practice’s policies, including notice of cancellation;
- Information that may have an effect on the treatment, such as pregnancy, pacemaker and/or certain medications; and
- Provide notice of HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) and privacy rules about patient records.
The best way to know that patients are reading the full consent form is to accompany each point or clause with a line meant for the patient’s initials (as opposed to requiring just one signature at the bottom of a multiple-page form).
In addition, practices should provide patients with an updated consent form if there are any changes in the law, or treatments and policies. Although it is the patient’s responsibility to notify his or her health team about any changes in status (e.g., changes in medication, new pregnancy, or other medical conditions), periodically asking patients to sign a new consent form is an excellent tool to find out if their medical situation has changed. That way, practices have a written update that can be used to demonstrate that there have been no changes reported in the patient’s medical history.
Consent forms, overall, provide information to the patients regarding the risks of the treatment, and thus the opportunity to opt out of the treatment, and the office policies as a whole. They also provide information about the patient for the practitioner to ensure that the treatment is a viable option, as well as informing the patient of the potential liability and role of the practitioner. Once the consent forms are reviewed, discussed and signed by the patient, the practitioner can focus entirely on providing the treatment for the patient, without worrying about the potential consequences or future liabilities of the practice.