If you’ve had surgery or any medical procedure, you were given forms to sign providing consent for the procedure and confirming that you understand the risks involved with the surgery or procedure.
A few patients read those forms in their entirety, some skim through them quickly, and most don’t read them at all. Most of us just sign that we give consent for the operation or procedure because we trust our physician and know he has our best interest at heart. While that may be true, it’s very important to know what you’re signing when it comes to these very important medical consent forms.
Now patients are finding out that they are agreeing to much more than the scheduled procedure and the possible risks associated with that procedure. Some of those signed forms indicate your approval to have your tissues or organs sent off to be studied in research labs—information that may not have come up when your doctor was explaining what will happen during surgery and what your recovery will involve.
Signing Your Body Away for Scientific Advancement
We’re not saying that sending tissue samples off for research is a bad thing. Many medical discoveries and technological advancements have occurred because people have donated dead or diseased tissue and organs for scientific study. The issue is that unsuspecting patients who are scared to death about their impending surgery are being taken advantage of by being handed a stack of forms without a true and thorough explanation of what may happen to removed tissue or diseased organ material.
Everyone has a right to know what is going to be done with their bodies while they’re on the operating table, under anesthesia, and unable to hear and see what’s being done to them. But once you’ve signed on the dotted line, the hospital or medical office has gotten your consent to do what they want with any tissues collected during your procedure.
How to Protect Your Personal Health Information
According to an article in The Washington Post online, Jennifer Miller, an Assistant Professor at the Yale School of Medicine and a founder of Bioethics International, doesn’t think blanket consents are ethical, especially “when someone is likely sick and potentially vulnerable.” In an era in which ownership of our data (credit scores, social media, and phone numbers) is constantly being leaked, hacked, and stolen, it would seem that ownership of our own bodies needs to be more deeply explored.
The Future of Personal Health Records
There are apps now (and even more in development) to help us keep our personal health records available at all times on our devices. These apps are designed to not only keep our information close at hand but they’re also meant to protect our personal health information. “PHR apps are safe and store data either locally on your device behind password, fingerprint or even facial recognition security or in encrypted form in a data cloud,” according to healthedeals.com. If the PHR apps are associated with HIPAA regulations, then the app is required to follow patient privacy laws relating to the sharing of patient data.
How does carrying personal health information benefit you? Centralized patient data repositories like hospital electronic health records (EHR) systems are appealing targets for hackers. Maintaining your health records on your own device protects your health information and provides a backup to ensure you receive timely medical care if a hospital’s records systems have been compromised or are unavailable for some technological glitch while you’re in need of medical treatment.
The time has come to become more aware of our personal health records and to better understand what, exactly, we are giving consent to when we sign on the dotted line prior to surgery or some other medical procedure. If you feel your right to privacy has been violated, or if something was taken from you during a medical procedure without your knowledge and/or consent, you may have a valid legal claim.