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Understand What “Informed Consent” Means and How it Affects You? - - - You Should.


Take ownership when communicating with medical professionals — who are obligated to discuss pros, cons, benefits AND risks before you, the patient exerts her adult responsibility to make the decision to undergo, or forego, any treatment, procedure, or test.

Most of us are at least familiar with elements of the widely popularized Hippocratic oath, ‘do not harm’, as a guidepost for ethical medical conduct. Most of us believe, rightfully,  the intent of medical practitioners is to help not harm. However, most or many of us are likely not well-versed in what ‘informed consent’ truly means, why it is essential to understand and expect it, and how the phrase is particularly relevant during these times.

As a ‘relative’ so to speak of ‘do not harm’, informed consent is the actual, legal obligation of a medical professional to communicate all possible risks, side effects, and benefits…so full disclosure. It is just that, to inform you before you consent to receiving a treatment, a prescription, an injection, a surgical procedure, an x-ray, a test.

This is no small task. An engaged, courteous, interactive dialogue should be a two-way commitment towards informed consent. Physicians must stay up to date on past and current research, as well as the evolving, and sometimes reversals of, medical guidelines and recommendations. An example as written in a legal-opinion essay by Athena Institute’s General Counsel:

“Necessarily, a physician must stay abreast of developments in her practice field. By 2015 the leading edge of breast cancer research is clearly backing away from advising women "to remember to get your annual mammogram.”

Past Athena Institute blogs, still posted, have challenged the overuse of mammogram screening and a ‘one size fits all’ annual screening approach. Taking ownership to be ‘informed’, women can learn, and then ask, about the harms and risks of mammogram screening — and discuss with their physicians to determine if they can reduce their screening frequency, sharing the changing guidelines with their physicians who, if not already aware per professional obligation, should engage with them. Informed consent is a rightful expectation in your relationship with your practitioner.

A full Powerpoint video intended for patients and physicians (see below), while addressing mammograms, is an essential, important and comprehensive overview on the harms of overdiagnosis. The message applies in a broad sense to any treatment, diagnosis, or interaction with your medical practitioner — you CAN ask questions, learn for yourself, and have your concerns considered, before just saying ‘yes’. And even be prepared to just say “NO”.


Does Your Asymptomatic Patient Really Need a Mammogram?

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A Power Point Presentation for Patients and Physicians From Dr. Winnifred Cutler