When Is Informed Consent Required in Georgia?
What physicians must tell you in the medical decision-making processBy S.M. Oliva | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on December 12, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Ranse M. Partin
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- What Is Informed Consent?
- When Informed Consent Is Required in Georgia
- What Information Must Be Disclosed When Getting a Patient’s Consent?
- Find an Experienced Attorney to Discuss Your Legal Rights
Thousands of Georgia residents receive medical care every day from their local physicians and hospitals. Healthcare services are unique because customers do not “shop around” or negotiate contract terms with providers. Instead, patients place their trust and faith in their doctor to make the right decisions.
In many cases, patients may not even think to inquire about the possible risks or complications that may arise from a medical procedure, even something as complex as surgery. This is why Georgia has what is known as an “informed consent” law.
What Is Informed Consent?
In plain terms, informed consent means that before undergoing certain kinds of surgery or medical treatment, a healthcare provider must inform you of the “general terms” regarding the procedure.
While you cannot sue a doctor or hospital simply because they fail to provide such information, if you undergo a procedure and are subsequently injured due to negligence, failure to follow Georgia’s informed consent law may give rise to a malpractice claim.
“From what I understand, other states may have informed consent statutes that give you an actual claim if you violate the informed consent statute,” says Ranse M. Partin, a litigator at Conley Griggs Partin in Atlanta. “In Georgia, there’s not really an independent claim for violating the statute.”
When Informed Consent Is Required in Georgia
Not all medical procedures require informed consent. Indeed, there is no “common law” duty to inform patients of the medical risks of any procedure. “Georgia’s informed consent statute is fairly specific as to what has to be disclosed,” says Partin. “And as long as that’s disclosed, the statute is satisfied.”
Georgia Code §31-9-6.1 only requires informed consent in the following situations:
- Surgical procedures under general anesthesia;
- Surgical procedures under spinal anesthesia;
- Surgical procedures under major regional anesthesia;
- An amniocentesis performed on a pregnant woman; or
- Imaging procedures that involve injecting dyes into the patient.
What Information Must Be Disclosed When Getting a Patient’s Consent?
Where informed consent is required, the health care provider must explain the procedure in terms a layperson can understand. The patient should then sign a written consent form agreeing to the procedure after reviewing all of the relevant information and treatment options.
Among the information that must be disclosed:
- The patient’s diagnosis, that is, what condition necessitates the “proposed surgical or diagnostic procedure”;
- The “nature and purpose” of the procedure itself;
- Any “material risks” associated with the procedure;
- The “likelihood of success” for the procedure;
- Whether any “practical alternatives” exist to the procedure; and
- The patient’s likely prognosis if they refuse treatment.
The term “material risk” is critical. It is neither required nor feasible for a health care provider to disclose all potential risks of a procedure. The informed consent statute, therefore, only mandates informing the patient of those risks “generally recognized and accepted by reasonably prudent physicians,” such as infection, paralysis, heart attack, or death.
This is only a partial list–the legal test is essentially what a “reasonably prudent person” would consider during an informed decision whether or not to have the procedure.
Find an Experienced Attorney to Discuss Your Legal Rights
As noted above, patients cannot sue simply because their doctor failed to disclose a material risk in the informed consent process. Rather, if a risk was not disclosed and the patient suffered an injury during the procedure where the lack of informed consent was a “proximate cause” of that injury, the patient can recover damages for malpractice.
If you have questions about the elements of informed consent or suspect that your patient rights were violated under state law and want to know your legal options, visit the Super Lawyers directory to find a qualified Georgia personal injury attorney. For more information on this area of law, see our overviews of healthcare law and medical malpractice.
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