The report was commissioned in response to the growing trend of patients assuming greater involvement in decisions regarding their treatment. If patients’ expectations that they will be adequately informed are not met, legal action against medical practitioners may result.
The report concentrated on three main areas:
- The legal principles determining liability of doctors for failure to give adequate information to patients.
- The policy considerations underlying those principles.
- Methods of enhancing the communication between doctor and patient in practice.
The scope of ALRC Report 50 was confined to situations where the patients were legally competent adults.
- Doctors should continue to be under a common law duty to provide patients with information to enable them to make informed decisions about medical procedures. This should not be replaced with a statutory standard.
- The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) should draft guidelines as to what information should generally be provided about procedures.
- Legislation governing medical practitioners should be amended to provide that professional misconduct includes a failure to provide adequate information to a patient concerning a proposed treatment or medical procedure.
The federal government has not amended the relevant legislation to provide that professional misconduct should include failure to adequately inform patients.
The NHMRC issued guidelines on the provision of information to patients, entitled General guidelines for medical practitioners on providing information to patients in 1993. These Guidelines were revised and reissued in 2004.
In 2000, the NHMRC issued guidelines addressing the nature of information required for publications designed to inform patients when deciding medical questions. These guidelines were titled How to Present the Evidence for Consumers: Preparation of Consumer Publications.
Informed consent to medical procedures continues to be governed by the common law. In 1993 the High Court dealt with the issue of informed consent to medical procedures in Rogers v Whitaker (1992) 175 CLR 479.