What is informed consent?
Consent is your agreement for a healthcare professional to provide you with treatment and care, including tests, medicines, treatments or procedures.
To give informed consent, you need to be given enough information about your choices to make decisions about your health and healthcare.
To give informed consent in Australia, you must:
- have legal capacity to consent (you can understand and weigh up your choices)
- give your consent voluntarily (it must be your decision and no one can force you)
- be given enough information about your condition and your choices, including the benefits, risks, costs and alternatives of each choice. You must also have the opportunity to ask questions.
Find out more about informed consent.
What are my healthcare rights?
The healthcare rights of all Australians are set out in the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights. These rights apply to any healthcare you receive, anywhere in Australia, including in public hospitals, private hospitals, general practice and in the community.
You have a right to:
- access healthcare and treatment that meet your needs
- safe, high-quality healthcare, given in a safe environment
- respect for you as an individual
- partnership with your healthcare providers and any other support people you choose
- information about your condition and treatment
- give feedback or make a complaint, without it affecting your healthcare
Find out more about your healthcare rights.
How can I give informed consent?
Informed consent can be given verbally or in writing. It can also be implied.
The type of consent you give will depend on the examination, treatment or procedure to which you are consenting. For example, by allowing your doctor to examine you, you imply consent to having a physical examination. For more complex procedures or treatments, such as surgery, you will usually be asked to provide consent in writing, for example, by signing a statement of consent that your doctor has prepared.
Can others sign a consent form on my behalf?
Generally, you need to give informed consent yourself. If you are unable to consent, for example, if you are unconscious, or you lack legal capacity to consent, a substitute decision-maker will consent on your behalf. There is a legal framework that sets out who is the substitute decision-maker in each situation. This framework may be different in each Australian state and territory.
If you are under 18, your parent or guardian is usually the person who can give consent on your behalf. However, there are some situations where young people under the age of 18 can give consent.
Ask your doctor or healthcare provider about your own circumstances.
It’s a good idea to think about who you would want to consent on your behalf, if you are ever unable to do so. You can appoint a substitute decision-maker ahead of time by signing a form granting someone medical power of attorney. This will only legally come into effect if you are ever unable to consent for yourself.
Visit the Department of Health and Aged Care for more information about appointing a substitute decision-maker.
Can I change my mind after signing a consent form?
Yes. In most cases, you can change your mind even if you have already given consent, and even if you have signed a consent form. Make sure you tell your doctor or healthcare professional clearly if you change your mind.
What if I don't want the treatment being offered?
If you don’t want the treatment being offered, you have the right to refuse it. No one can force you to have any treatment or procedure without informed consent from you or your substitute decision-maker if you aren’t able to consent yourself.
Make sure you are fully aware of the benefits and risks of treatment, and of doing nothing, before you decide. If something isn’t clear, ask your doctor or midwife to explain it. You can also ask for more time to decide.
Are there situations when informed consent is not needed?
Informed consent is not needed in an emergency if urgent treatment is needed to save your life or prevent serious damage to your health.
If there are situations where you wouldn’t want certain treatments (for example, if you don’t want blood transfusions), even to save your life, you should make sure your medical team know about this in advance.
Who can I speak to if I'm not satisfied with my healthcare?
If you aren’t satisfied with your healthcare, there are many people you can speak to, including:
- your doctor or midwife
- the health complaints agency or health department in your local state or territory
- the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA), if you have a concern about the unsafe behaviour or practice of a registered health practitioner
- the National Health Practitioner Ombudsman
If you aren’t sure about something that happened to you, especially during labour, birth or in an emergency, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor or midwife for a debrief. This is an opportunity to ask questions after an event, so that you better understand what happened.
Resources and support
For more detailed information about informed consent for medical imaging see the article Why do I even need this test? on the Consumers Health Forum of Australia website.
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Last reviewed: February 2023