Informed Consent: Just What Does It Mean?

I handle medical malpractice cases against Virginia hospitals, doctors, dentists, and other health care providers.

In almost every case, the issue of “informed consent” is present.

If you have ever had surgery or any other involved medical procedure, you gave your doctor  your “informed consent” to replace your heart valve, remove that cancerous tumor or inflamed gall bladder, administer anesthesia, or inject you with radio-opaque die for a MRI study.

Most of my clients tell me they were provided a one or two page “informed consent” document to sign immediately prior to the surgery or procedure, without any explanation of its contents or importance.

So what is the real story behind informed consent in Virginia?

Many surgery patients see the informed consent document for the first time after they have arrived at the hospital, removed their clothing, placed in a very skimpy robe, and are being wheeled down the hallway to the operating room.

Then, when the surgery turns out badly for the patient, the surgeon points to the signed informed consent document and basically says, “I told you this could happen.”

Informed consent is more than simply getting a patient to sign a written consent form.

It is a process of communication between a patient and physician that results in the patient’s authorization or agreement to undergo a specific medical intervention.

The American Medical Association tells its doctors they must tell their patients the following in order to obtain their patient’s informed consent for a procedure or surgery:

  • The patient’s diagnosis, if known;
  • The nature and purpose of a proposed treatment or procedure;
  • The risks and benefits of a proposed treatment or procedure;
  • Alternatives (regardless of their cost or the extent to which the treatment options are covered by health insurance);
  • The risks and benefits of the alternative treatment or procedure; and
  • The risks and benefits of not receiving or undergoing a treatment or procedure.

The bottom line: Be an “informed” patient.  Ask questions.  Read the informed consent document before you sign it and ask for explanations of any items you do not understand.  If your doctor refuses to give you a good explanation or acts “put out” over your questions – get a new doctor!

Dan Frith

Dan Frith

Dan Frith has over 25 years of experience representing individuals and families in cases of medical malpractice throughout Virginia. He has been named "Best Medical Malpractice Attorney" by Roanoker Magazine and is a member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. To speak with Dan, contact him by email at