Applying the Principles of Informed Consent to Patient Care

Legal and Ethical Considerations for Physical Therapy

Ruth B Purtilo


This paper presents legal and ethical considerations regarding informed consent for the evaluation and treatment of patients in physical therapy practice. Therapists traditionally think of informed consent in relation to clinical research, but as the trend toward independent practice and private practice increases in physical therapy, the physical therapist must understand the process of informed consent in relation to patient care. Legal concepts of battery, self-determination, and the fiduciary relationship create a legal foundation for informed consent. The patient's moral right to self-determination and the corresponding duty of health professionals to “do no harm” create a strong moral basis for gaining a patient's informed consent. Practical suggestions are offered to physical therapists to help them assess their need for obtaining informed consent.

Key Words:
  • Received September 21, 1983.
  • Accepted January 30, 1984.