Informed Consent and Treatment at Nursing Homes

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Some nursing homes and their employees take their responsibilities seriously and genuinely care about their residents.  They work to ensure their residents are healthy and receive the medical treatment they need.  While they may not mean any intentional harm to their residents, certain medications they deem beneficial to the resident may end up harming the resident’s’ health.  Or a certain procedure or treatment designed to alleviate pain may cause even more pain.  What legal limits are in place to protect nursing home residents from unnecessary or potentially harmful (albeit well-meaning) medical treatments?

The Requirement of Informed Consent

One of the greatest protections for nursing home residents (or any medical patient in any setting) is the requirement that the doctor or treating professional obtain the informed consent of the resident prior to initiating any new medication or treatment.  “Informed consent” generally requires that the professional clearly explain the procedure or medication to the resident and take steps to ensure:

  • The resident understands the necessity for the treatment or medication;
  • The resident understands the potential side effects or risks;
  • The resident has had an opportunity to obtain a second opinion or speak with a trusted loved one, if desired;
  • The resident is afforded an opportunity to ask the professional questions the resident may have; and/or
  • The resident’s consent for the procedure or treatment is obtained.

Consent cannot be considered “informed” if the professional lies to the resident about the need for the treatment, hides or minimizes the potential risks or side effects, or unduly pressures the resident into acquiescing to the procedure or medication.
If the resident’s admissions paperwork indicates that he or she has a power of attorney for healthcare decisions, or if the resident’s physical or mental state is such that the resident cannot provide informed consent (i.e., the resident is in a condition that renders them unable to communicate with staff), then the professional must attempt to make contact with the power of attorney or (if none) an appropriate family member or responsible party.

When Is Informed Consent Not Required?

There are certain situations in which nursing home medical staff need not obtain informed consent from the resident.  The most obvious situation is where the patient’s health or wellbeing is in jeopardy and the resident will die or suffer catastrophic injuries if medication or treatment is not provided immediately.  For example, a resident who slips in the shower, hits her head, and suffers a traumatic injury can be taken to the hospital and operated on right away without first obtaining informed consent.  The nursing home must still take reasonable measures to contact the party responsible for the resident or to communicate with the resident herself and obtain consent for any additional treatment not necessary to save the resident’s life.
The lawyers at David R. Price, Jr., P.A. are available to assist nursing home residents who may have been injured through the careless or reckless acts of staff and medical professionals. Call our firm today to discuss your case with our experienced personal injury team in Greenville, SC, or contact us through our website to set up your free initial consultation.


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