Informed Consent

What is Informed Consent?

Consent is an agreement between you and your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will ask you to give your consent before you have any test, treatment or procedure they are recommending for you. The only exception is in an emergency or situation to save your life.

You have a right to receive clear information about your condition and the risks and benefits of treatment options available to you. You also have the option to decline or withdraw treatment. These rights are contained in the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights (the Charter). You can find the Charter here:

What is ‘shared decision making’?

True informed consent is more than a signature on a form. It involves a conversation between a patient (or their person responsible), and a healthcare provider that results in a decision to have or not have, a healthcare test, treatment or procedure. This is referred to as shared decision making.

You may want to involve a support person in this decision – like a family member, carer or friend. A support person can help you to remember information and ask questions. You can use these 5 questions as a guide in your discussion with your healthcare provider.

Some people may not be confident to ask questions in a conversation about consent and some people are particularly vulnerable, like older adults, people with limited English or who are Deaf and people living with a disability. There are many factors that can make communication a challenge, but not impossible. As a patient or a family member, carer or friend supporting a patient or as a legal substitute decision-maker, you can use several strategies to make it easier to communicate with health care providers:

  • As a patient, tell the health care provider if you would like your family or carer involved.
  • Check back with the health care provider if there is something you didn’t understand or need repeated. Learn more about check-back here.
  • Ask questions.
  • Ask for an interpreter if you do not speak English well or are Deaf.
  • Tell the doctor if you have an Advance Care Directive in place.
  • Tell the doctor if you are the patient’s legal substitute decision-maker.

Who is a ‘person responsible’ and what is substitute decision-making?

The patient usually gives consent. When a person cannot make decisions on their own or with support and the situation is not an emergency, the health practitioner will need to talk to the patient’s ‘person responsible’. This is required by law (NSW Guardianship Act 1987).  A ‘person responsible’ may be a legal substitute decision-maker. The role of a substitute decision-maker is to make decisions on behalf of the person they represent.

As a patient, your person responsible may not be your next of kin, that is a member of your immediate or close family. The law in NSW (Guardianship Act 1987) sets out the list of people who can be the person responsible – this is called the hierarchy for healthcare and medical decision-making.

This factsheet provides more information about who is a person responsible and their role in providing consent for healthcare and medical treatment.

This website provides more information about substitute decision-making for healthcare and financial and legal decisions.

Are you someone living with an intellectual disability? Or a carer for someone? Watch this short video called Big Decisions - Who's that at the end of my bed? to learn more about who can and who can’t make a healthcare decision for you.

Read or download the ISLHD Informed Consent Fact Sheet.

Support people

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Shared decision making is when you work together with your healthcare provider to discuss and make decisions about your own treatment and care. You can also choose to involve a family member, carer or close friend to join the conversation. A support person can help you to make your decision and remember information.

It is important that you freely give your consent. This means that your doctor or other healthcare provider, or your family, carer or friend should not pressure or force you to make a healthcare decision.

If you speak a language other than English, or you are Deaf, you can ask your healthcare provider to arrange an interpreter. This is a free and confidential service.

Some people will have a substitute decision maker. You have a right to have a substitute decision-maker make medical decisions for you if you’re not able to make these decisions yourself.

If you are a substitute decision maker – for example a Guardian, the healthcare provider must involve you in discussions and decisions about the care of the person you can make decisions for.

Ask questions

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Information about healthcare tests, treatments and procedures can be complicated. You can ask questions at any time, and ask for information to be repeated or written down. It is a good idea to think about the questions to ask your healthcare provider before your appointment. 

It can be helpful to have written information about a test, treatment or procedure that is being recommended for you. Written information – such as in pamphlets or the information on-line at trusted websites, can help you to remember information and explain it to your family and friends. Ask your healthcare provider if there is any written information available in your language that you can take home, or about any trusted websites that you can use.

5 Questions 

Choosing Wisely Australia has developed ‘5 Questions to ask your doctor or health care provider before you get any test, treatment or procedure’. The questions are: 

  1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?
  2. What are the risks?
  3. Are there simpler, safer options?
  4. What happens if I don't do anything?
  5. What are the costs?

You can read more about the 5 Questions on the Choosing Wisely website, or view them in a number of different languages. 

Learn more