Consent guidance: Discussing side effects, complications and other risks
- 28. Clear, accurate information about the risks of any proposed investigation or treatment, presented in a way patients can understand, can help them make informed decisions. The amount of information about risk that you should share with patients will depend on the individual patient and what they want or need to know. Your discussions with patients should focus on their individual situation and the risk to them.
- 29. In order to have effective discussions with patients about risk, you must identify the adverse outcomes that may result from the proposed options. This includes the potential outcome of taking no action. Risks can take a number of forms, but will usually be:
- a. side effects
- b. complications
- c. failure of an intervention to achieve the desired aim.
Risks can vary from common but minor side effects, to rare but serious adverse outcomes possibly resulting in permanent disability or death.
- 30. In assessing the risk to an individual patient, you must consider the nature of the patient’s condition, their general health and other circumstances. These are variable factors that may affect the likelihood of adverse outcomes occurring.
- 31. You should do your best to understand the patient's views and preferences about any proposed investigation or treatment, and the adverse outcomes they are most concerned about. You must not make assumptions about a patient's understanding of risk or the importance they attach to different outcomes. You should discuss these issues with your patient.8
- 32. You must tell patients if an investigation or treatment might result in a serious adverse outcome,9 even if the likelihood is very small. You should also tell patients about less serious side effects or complications if they occur frequently, and explain what the patient should do if they experience any of them.
- 33. You must give information about risk in a balanced way. You should avoid bias, and you should explain the expected benefits as well as the potential burdens and risks of any proposed investigation or treatment.
- 34. You must use clear, simple and consistent language when discussing risks with patients. You should be aware that patients may understand information about risk differently from you. You should check that the patient understands the terms that you use, particularly when describing the seriousness, frequency and likelihood of an adverse outcome. You should use simple and accurate written information or visual or other aids to explain risk, if they will help the patient to understand.
- 35. If a patient does not want to know about the possible risks of a proposed investigation or treatment, you must follow the guidance in paragraphs 13–17.
- 36. You must keep up to date with developments in your area of practice, which may affect your knowledge and understanding of the risks associated with the investigations or treatments that you provide.