Is Your Doctor Telling You Everything You Need To Know?

Patient-doctor relationships are built on trust. As a patient it is important to be able to rely on a doctor to provide truthful and accurate information about the treatment being prescribed.  Having this information allows a patient to make an informed decision on whether to consent to the prescribed treatment.  In the State of Georgia, having this information is known as a patient’s ability to make an informed consent.

What Information is needed to make an Informed Consent?

Most medical procedures involve some amount of risk to the patient. Often the risk is greatly outweighed by the benefit of the procedure, but it is your right as a patient to make that determination.  To aid patients in making that choice, most states require doctors to inform a patient of all the material risks of undergoing a particular medical procedure.  In the State of Georgia, however, doctors are often not required to tell the patient anything about the procedure that is being prescribed.

Informed Consent in Georgia

Georgia law only requires a doctor to talk to a patient about the treatment being prescribed if it is a “surgical procedure under general anesthesia, spinal anesthesia, or major regional anesthesia,” or an “amniocentesis diagnostic procedure or a diagnostic procedure which involves the intravenous or intraductal injection of a contrast material.” O.C.G.A. § 31-9-6.1(a).

This means that if a patient is having a procedure performed that does not require anesthesia, or having one performed that only requires local anesthesia, the doctor is not required by law to voluntarily provide any information about the risks of the procedure.

If, however, a patient is undergoing a procedure that requires the doctor to provide information, the doctor only has to disclose six pieces of information to the patient. These six pieces of information are:

(1) A diagnosis of the patient’s condition requiring such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure;

(2) The nature and purpose of such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure;

(3) The material risks generally recognized and accepted by reasonably prudent physicians… which, if disclosed to a reasonably prudent person in the patient’s position, could reasonably be expected to cause such prudent person to decline such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure on the basis of the material risk of injury that could result from such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure;

(4) The likelihood of success of such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure;

(5) The practical alternatives to such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure which are generally recognized and accepted by reasonably prudent physicians; and

(6) The prognosis of the patient’s condition if such proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure is rejected.

O.C.G.A. § 31-9-6.1(a)(1)-(6).

The above list provides patients with important information, but it omits several topic areas that many patients would likely consider important as well. For example, in Georgia, a doctor is not required to tell a patient that he is regularly using illegal narcotics. Albany Urology Clinic, P.C. v. Cleveland, 272 Ga. 296 (2000).  Nor does a doctor have to tell a patient that he had a claim for sexual battery brought against him. Prince v. Esposito, 278 Ga. App. 310 (2006).

How can a Patient Obtain more Information?

Although Georgia law does not regularly require doctors to voluntarily disclose information to patients, physicians are obligated to truthfully answer a patient’s questions about the risks of a procedure. Blotner v. Doreika, 285 Ga. 481 (2009).

Because the law mandates that doctors truthfully answer their patients’ questions, patients should always be willing to ask a doctor about anything they need to make an informed decision about whether to consent to the prescribed treatment. Knowing what questions to ask can be difficult, but a good starting point is the six topic areas listed above.

The attorneys at Butler Tobin understand complex medical issues and are experienced in representing patients injured by a doctor’s failure to obtain proper informed consent.

A patient should never have to undergo a procedure about which he or she is ill-informed. If you have been injured as result of a doctor failing to fully inform you about the risks of a procedure, or by some medical device contact our attorneys for a free consultation. Or call us at (404) JUSTICE = (404) 587-8423.