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Does a Lack of Information about Treatment Risks Qualify as Medical Malpractice?

March 7, 2022

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Modern medicine can achieve great things for people who are sick or injured. However, all treatments have risks. Whether it’s taking an over-the-counter pain reliever or undergoing major surgery, suffering side effects and complications is always a possibility.

Because of those risks, patients can’t always sue for medical malpractice when they have bad outcomes. Instead, medical malpractice claims are typically reserved for bad outcomes caused by negligence, such as a failure to follow established safety guidelines and protocols. But in some cases, patients can sue for bad outcomes not related to negligence when they weren’t aware of the risks they faced.

In Ohio, patients or the people who can legally make decisions on their behalf must be fully informed of the risks of potential treatments. This is called informed consent. It gives patients and their loved ones a chance to weigh the pros and cons and decide whether a treatment is worth the risks.

When patients or their families feel uncomfortable with a certain treatment, they’re allowed to decline it, try alternative treatments, or seek second opinions. However, some patients proceed with treatments that they otherwise would have declined because they weren’t informed of the risks. Although doctors don’t have to discuss all possible outcomes, they’re required to inform patients of common risks associated with treatments.

What Are Doctors Required to Inform Patients About?

The key components of informed consent in a doctor-patient relationship include:

  • A diagnosis of the patient’s injury or illness
  • The reasoning behind proposed treatments, procedures, or surgeries that may be able to treat it
  • The pros and cons of each treatment, procedure, or surgery
  • A list of alternative treatments
  • The pros and cons of alternative treatments
  • Recovery timelines for all proposed treatments, including risk of complications
  • Estimates of the expenses associated with proposed treatments
  • The types and amounts of medications associated with proposed treatments
  • The role the patient will play in maximizing each treatment’s chance of success
  • The risks of declining recommended and alternative treatments

In addition to providing as much information as possible about a treatment to patients before they agree to it, doctors should also be available and willing to answer patients’ questions. Patients may receive some information from their doctors but have many follow-up questions. When those questions go unanswered, patients may not be fully informed if they undergo recommended or alternative treatments.

The most common exception to the informed consent requirement involves patients who are unconscious or in need of emergency treatments—including those that come up during other treatments. For example, doctors can perform life-saving treatments on patients without their consent after serious accidents and injuries. However, doctors may still need to get consent from guardians or people with power of attorney in many of those situations.

Doctors may also make changes to proposed treatment plans when unexpected complications arise. For example, doctors may deviate from certain surgical treatments when incisions reveal previously undiscovered risk factors, or they may perform additional steps during surgeries when new risk factors can be safely and effectively addressed.

After a treatment that harmed you, you may not know what to do next. Informed consent laws aren’t always easy to understand. Many patients assume they received all of the information they needed from their doctors, even if their complications, injuries, or side effects are unexpected.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys build successful claims for people who were harmed by negligence. And whether that negligence happened in the operating room or sitting across from the surgeon days or weeks before the procedure occurred, we ensure that hospitals and insurance companies know about it.

Contact us today for a free consultation of your medical malpractice claim. It’s our job to get you the money you deserve.

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