Getting consent from a patient is more than just having a patient sign their name to a form. The physiotherapist must ensure that patients understand what they are consenting to. 

The following list of expectations describes what physiotherapists are required to do when obtaining consent.

The information below is a summary of the legislative requirements on consent. Refer to the legislation for full details.

  1. Before conducting an assessment or providing treatment, physiotherapists must get a patients’ permission to do so. This is known as consent. The physiotherapist must be sure that patients understand what is going to happen before the treatment begins by providing information about the nature of the treatment, its benefits, risks, side effects, the alternative courses of action, and any possible consequences of not having the treatment.  The physiotherapist must also answer any questions the patient may ask about the treatment.

  2. Consent can be given verbally, in writing, or it can be implied through behaviour. For example, the patient rolls up their sleeve for their arm to be examined.

  3. Patients are entitled to refuse to consent to treatment or withdraw their consent at any time. 

  4. If the patient is not capable of providing consent, the physiotherapist must find a substitute decision-maker to provide consent. 

  5. Physiotherapists cannot make decisions on behalf of a patient. The only exception is in an emergency when there is no substitute decision-maker available to make the decisions.  

  6. In a team environment, if there is any doubt about whether the patient provided consent to another health professional involved in the treatment plan, the physiotherapist must confirm that consent was provided or get it again. 

  7. Physiotherapists must obtain a patient’s consent to involve others in the patient’s care, such as physiotherapist assistants, students and volunteers. This requires a conversation with the patient about the roles and responsibilities of the physiotherapist and the physiotherapist assistant, student or volunteer. 

  8. Physiotherapists must document their conversations with patients about ongoing consent to assessment, treatment, and involvement of other care providers, including physiotherapist assistants.

Related Laws and Legislation

Health Care Consent Act, 1996, c.2 Schedule A

Related links

7 Things You Should Know about Consent

Consent goes beyond just having a patient sign their name on a form. It’s a process that requires a thorough conversation between the patient and person giving the treatment. This conversation must provide opportunities for the PT and the patient to discuss the issue, consider treatment options, ask questions and have those questions answered.

Here are seven things you should know about consent listed not in any particular order or exhaustive. 

  1. A patient can withdraw their consent at any time.

  2. Patients or substitute decision makers must have enough information to make an informed decision and be given an opportunity to ask questions.

  3. Consent must cover the following: Nature of treatment, benefits of treatment, risks of treatment, side effects of treatment, alternative courses of action, and consequences of not having treatment.

  4. When working with a patient who is not fluent in English, do not assume that the patient is capable or incapable of providing informed consent. Consider using an interpreter or someone else who is fluent in their language and English.

  5. Consent can be obtained by one person on behalf of a team as long as the patient can ask about specific elements of the plan being offered by a specific provider.

  6. You need to have patients consent to include a support person in his or her care. Patients have the right to make an informed choice.

  7. A physiotherapist must release a copy of the patient record to the patient, or their representative, if they request it.

Consent Matters Poster 

(Printable for PTs)