Getting The Care You Deserve: Your Guide To Understanding Patient’s Rights

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Did you know that patients have specific rights they should expect with established healthcare professionals? The healthcare landscape can be a difficult one to navigate in the United States.

However, knowing these basic patient’s rights will give patients the ability to invest themselves in their treatment. When a patient is aware of their rights, they’re able to have a greater sense of their own agency. 

Read on to understand these important rights that can’t be violated. 

What Are Patient’s Rights?

Patient’s rights describe the basic level of conduct that patients should expect from their doctors. Patient’s rights should be expected from other patients. They should also be expected from any medical caregivers, laboratories, insurers, secretaries, housekeepers, and anyone who has access to the patient or their medical records.

These rights are described in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics provides summaries of these rights.

Violations of these rights can lead to fines or prison time. In order for a patient to prove medical malpractice, they need to provide these four elements to the court:

  1. A preexisting duty: A licensed physician accepts a patient for the purpose of medical treatment, creating a physician-patient relationship. 
  2. A breach of duty: The physician fails to comply with minimum standards of care. 
  3. Damage: Personal loss, injury, pain and suffering, loss of income, or deterioration has occurred because of the physician’s inability to provide the minimum standard of care. 
  4. Immediate cause: The physician’s breach of duty caused damage to the patient.

To prove medical malpractice, it’s important to understand how it works.

Communication

Open, honest communication is one of the most important parts of the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors need to communicate openly and honestly with their patients at all times. This includes if the patients have suffered any medical complications, major or minor, from a doctor’s judgment.

Without this kind of communication, patients aren’t able to make informed decisions regarding their care.  

Informed Consent

In order to give informed consent, a patient needs to understand:

  • What the doctor wants to do 
  • The nature and purpose of the treatment
  • Whether the proposed treatment is a major or minor surgery or procedure
  • The intended effects and all possible side-effects
  • All of the risks and benefits
  • All alternatives to the proposal, along with their possible risks and benefits

The patient needs knowledge and honest communication in order to give informed consent. Beyond that, the patient can’t be forced or coerced to make a decision.

They have the right to ask as many questions as they want in order to get a better understanding of the treatment and negotiate alternatives. 

Lastly, patients need to be able to give competent consent. This means they have enough decision-making capacity to understand their treatment options. They need to understand the possible risks and benefits of the treatment, and the consequences when taking into account their values and beliefs. 

Confidentiality

Patients should always expect that their communications with their doctors are confidential. However, here are a few exceptions that make the release of information necessary: 

  • The patient gives written informed consent for information to be shared
  • The patient is at risk of physically harming themselves or another person
  • All cases of child abuse need to be reported to the DA or CPS
  • The wounds are related to illegal activity, such as gun and knife wounds
  • The patient is a minor, which most states regard as a person younger than 18 years

Right to Healthcare

Everyone can agree that every person has a basic right to healthcare. However, our existing social structure in the United States doesn’t make access easy for everyone. Unequal access tends to depend on a person’s race, socioeconomic status, and gender.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) protects people who don’t have money or health insurance. It mandates the evaluation of patients who seek medical attention at emergency facilities. If the emergency care institution refuses to provide care, they are held responsible and liable. 

Abandonment 

If the doctor is planning to withdraw care, they need to notify the patient and transfer care to an acceptable doctor. Doctors can be charged with negligent abandonment if they drop a patient’s healthcare without referring, transferring, or discharging them appropriately. 

Right to Refuse Care

Competent adult patients have the right to refuse health care, but there are some exceptions. Although adults can refuse life-sustaining treatment, laws don’t allow parents or guardians to deny children access to necessary medical care. This is even when medical care goes against the guardian’s religion. 

In the case of Prince v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled: 

“Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves. But it does not follow they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children before they have reached the age of full and legal discretion.” 

Power to the Patients

Patient’s rights are the basic levels of care that a patient should expect with any healthcare provider. Understanding these rights gives a patient more agency over their healthcare decisions. Asking questions, doing their own research, and refusing care they aren’t comfortable with shouldn’t be considered a nuisance. 

In the past, the general opinion was that your doctor knew best. The widespread access to knowledge through the Internet has lead to better-informed consumers. We’re more aware than ever before of the power we hold over our own health outcomes. 

Want to learn more about how the healthcare industry works? Keep reading our blog for more informative articles. 

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