Your Rights as a Medical Patient
There are a wide variety of laws which protect medical patients. A detailed discussion of these rights would be beyond the scope of this article. It is important to have at least a basic, overall understanding of these rights, however, to ensure your safety and well being. Individuals must first know their rights as a patient before they can properly enforce them.
Generally, our rights as medical patients are defined by a variety of Federal and state statutes and by the common law. While specific provisions differ state by state, typically most laws provide protection in the following areas.
Freedom of choice. Generally, patients have the right to select the persons and facilities that are primarily responsible for their medical care. This right, however, may be qualified in the case of emergencies when patients may be unable to make decisions about their treatment.
Informed consent. Patients have the right to learn all of the medically viable alternatives open to them. In order to evaluate risks properly, patients must first be advised in a reasonable manner of all significant medical information that their physicians possess, or reasonably should possess, that are material to an intelligent decision whether to undergo a proposed procedure.
Basic background information. In order to make an informed decision, a patient has the right to obtain the name and specialty of the physician or other person(s) responsible for coordinating his or her care. Some laws also require physicians, students, and other employees of medical facilities to wear identification badges that display their photograph and disclose their name, license status, and staff position to all persons within a medical facility.
Explanation of affiliation. In order to make a fully informed decision regarding their treatment, patients have the right to learn about any relationship or affiliation which their health care facility may have with any other medical or educational institution.
Receipt of rules. Upon admission, patients should receive a copy of any and all regulations which apply to their own conduct while they are being treated within a medical facility or institution.
Confidentiality and privacy. Generally, a patient's medical records and communications should be disclosed only to those persons who have a duty or reasonable need to review such records. The nature, details, and extent of a patient's care and treatment within any medical facility should remain private.
Prompt and adequate response. All reasonable requests should be answered within the medical facility's ability without undue delay.
Access to, and inspection of, records. The patient has a right to review, and to obtain, his or her own medical records. The patient may be required to pay for any photocopying expenses if he or she wishes a personal copy of these records. If such records are required in order to support a claim for Social Security benefits or another governmental needs-based program, however, the records should usually be copied free of charge.
Right to refuse treatment. Patients ordinarily have a right to refuse to be examined, observed, or treated by medical students. Patients may also have a right to refuse treatment based upon the creed or tenants of a church or religious denomination whose beliefs limit the form and quality of treatment to which they may submit. They also have a right to refuse extraordinary treatment which is of limited therapeutic value and which will only prolong suffering unnecessarily.
Experimental research. A patient has the right to refuse to serve as a research subject or to be examined or treated whenever the primary purpose of such care is educational or informational rather than therapeutic.
Life-saving treatment. A patient should be provided prompt care in an emergency without discrimination based upon economic status or otherwise.
Financial aid information. A patient is entitled to receive any information regarding financial assistance and/or free health care options which may be available in the circumstances.
Transfer to another medical facility. Whenever patients are refused non-emergency treatment because of economic status or an inability to pay for services, they are entitled to reasonably prompt and safe transfer to another medical facility.
Itemized invoice. Patients are entitled to receive a detailed invoice or statement of all medical-related charges submitted for payment to an insurance company or some other third-party.
Other laws may protect you as well depending upon your particular jurisdiction. Knowing and reasonably exercising these rights may be your best defense against possible oversight, neglect, or abuse. They also allow you to achieve the maximum reassurance for yourself and your loved ones that you know as much as possible about your care and the people providing it.