A strong Informed Consent process is one of the best ways to ensure that you, the practitioner, avoid malpractice lawsuits. It is not commonly seen in conventional primary care practices, but it is a critical component of a good legal (and ethical) strategy for functional medicine providers.
As the name suggests, it is a process of fully informing the patient of the proposed treatment plan or specific modality so that the patient can consent to the treatment. Functional and integrative or holistic providers, as outside of what is considered "mainstream" medicine, especially need to engage with the patient and start the informed consent discussion with every patient before starting treatment.
First, in any industry, it is good business practice to make sure your client has clear expectations of the service or product they are paying for. No business wants unhappy clients. This is doubly true when malpractice lawsuits are a possible byproduct of an unhappy client (patient).
Second, licensed providers often have an ethical obligation (if not a moral one) to make sure that patients fully understand and consent to treatment before the treatment begins.
Most importantly, engaging in a full Informed Consent process can be a defense to malpractice suits.
TIP: You can't just stick an informed consent document in a stack of intake paperwork and think that you're covered.
For the consent to truly be "informed", the patient must actually understand what is being said. As the provider, you will want to think of this as a two-way discussion where the patient has the opportunity to ask questions and have them answered to their satisfaction. You and the patient should discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives to seeking functional medicine treatment. Give the patient ample opportunity to ask questions and answer the questions thoroughly in easy-to-understand terms. Make sure that the patient understands that they have the option to decline consent or withhold consent and decline treatment. Don't pressure them and (as important) don't allow them to FEEL pressured. If necessary, give them time to consult with family or other advisors before consenting, or advise them of their opportunity to do so.
Remember, in legal disputes, if it isn't in writing, it's like it never happened. Having a document that memorializes the conversation will also act as a checklist for you so you remember to include all of the appropriate information during the conversation.
A strong Informed Consent process is one of the most important risk-management steps you can take as an "alternative" medicine provider.
If you don't already have a system in place, our Informed Consent form is a great place to start this important process.