Everyone is entitled to determine what happens with their health. That’s why healthcare professionals can’t do treatments or procedures without your agreement. This involves more than a simple “yes” or “no.” Deciding on your care has to be based on a thorough understanding of what will and could happen. This is the basis of informed consent, which is a fundamental duty for every healthcare professional to provide to you. Respecting patient and client autonomy means supporting your right to make informed choices. That includes care delivered virtually.
More than 400,000 healthcare professionals in Ontario including dentists, physiotherapists, midwives, psychotherapists, and many more are regulated by 26 organizations called “colleges.” The colleges are not schools or associations that represent the interests of healthcare professionals. These colleges protect the public by:
- setting the requirements for becoming a regulated health professional in Ontario, permitting only those qualified to practise.
- setting and enforcing practice standards so that you and your family receive safe, ethical, and competent healthcare.
- requiring regulated health professionals to keep their knowledge and skills up-to-date so they can provide safe, ethical, and competent care throughout their careers.
In healthcare, consent is more than just reading the fine print—it’s at the core of the standards for any healthcare profession. Are you making the best decisions about your health?
Here are three important principles of consent:
- For consent to be valid, you need sufficient information. This includes knowing the nature of the treatment/procedure, expected benefits, alternative options, any risks (probable or otherwise) and side effects. It’s up to the health professional to discuss the likely consequences of not having the treatment/procedure.
- Consent must be voluntary. Nobody can force you to give consent. You’re entitled to ask questions, think about your options, give your answer and change your mind. You can withdraw consent even after giving it, at any time during treatment.
- The obligation is on the health professional. Consent can be expressed (when you agree in writing or orally), or implied (like when you offer your arm for an injection or to draw blood).
Your healthcare professional must look for signs that you understand the information provided. Remember that you can’t consent without being informed and that consent is an ongoing process, where the professional carefully explains what’s going on and lets you be heard. This ensures that you not only agree with it, but truly understand your care.
Before your next appointment, you can always visit ontariohealthregulators.ca to learn about your rights as a healthcare consumer.