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The importance of informed consent for Montana patients

Medical patients in Montana have certain rights when they visit a doctor or health care facility. One of the most important rights is the right to make decisions regarding their own health care. This includes the legal right to informed consent, which means that patients have the right to be informed of the risks and benefits of a medical procedure or course of treatment, and the right to consent, or not consent, to that procedure or treatment.

The legal concept of informed consent is based on the idea that doctors have more information and knowledge about medical issues than patients do. A patient's consent to treatment is meaningful only if the patient has been given sufficient information to make an informed decision.

Doctors are required to provide information including the risks and benefits of the treatment being recommended, the risks and benefits of alternate forms of treatment and the risks and benefits of doing nothing. Patients should be fully informed of the risks of surgery, and the potential side effects of medications. The doctor should give the patient a chance to ask questions, and should make sure the patient understands the information provided.

Doctors are not required to obtain informed consent for minor, low-risk procedures, such as checking blood pressure or taking a pulse. If the patient lacks capacity to give informed consent, a health care agent, appointed in a health care directive, can consent on the patient's behalf.

A failure to obtain informed consent can be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit if the patient suffers injury or a worsened condition as a result of the procedure in question. If the patient can show they would not have agreed to the procedure had they known the risks, the physician or hospital may be liable for damages.

Source: Findlaw, "Understanding Informed Consent - A Primer," accessed Oct. 5, 2015

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