Thursday, June 20, 2024

Now, More Than, Ever, Patients Must Know Their Rights.

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( Covid-19 has everyone a lot more concerned about the health care system and many are currently addressing the question of how a predominantly private-system can handle a global crisis such as the one we face. Furthermore, many citizens are wondering about what rights they might have within that system. We all have patient rights that are guaranteed by the law and enforced by the judiciary. 

Here, we’re going to take a deeper look into those rights, what you should know about them, and how to make sure you’re taking the necessary steps to protect them. None of the below counts as legal advice, of course, so if you mean to take actions to defend or assert your rights, make sure you have the right advice as you do so.

You have a right to be treated with respect

This may sound like the most abstract right of them all, but it’s an important one to ensure that you are effectively cared for. This right in part covers your right to seek treatment without any fear of being discriminated on grounds of race, sex, age, disability, religion, and other protected group statuses. There are several reasons it’s important that patients are respected in the context of a health care center or hospital.

For one, a study published by Consumer Reports showed that patients who didn’t feel like their hospital care team respected their views were genuinely at a higher risk of experiencing a medical error. Medical errors can lead to billing problems, inaccurate treatment plans, and even a risk of malpractice.

Many patients have complained of being interrupted, having their preferences ignored, and experiencing a lack of fairness due to discrimination.

You have a right to your medical records

A patient’s medical records are essential. They allow our current doctors and other medical professionals to make sure that they’re aware of the context of our health, including past health care treatments. As such, they can make sure that they only provide treatment that fits our needs.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (or HIPAA for short) all patients have the right to get a copy of their medical records and to see your medical records at the doctors’ office. There are some extenuating circumstances in which a health care provider is allowed to withhold records from a patient, such as if information in the record may endanger the patient or someone else.

Patients may also face a fee in getting a copy of their medical records to cover and costs such as printing and mailing copies.

You have a right to keep your medical records private

Most people have heard of doctor-patient confidentially and have a decent understanding of what it means in basic terms. In the vast majority of cases, your health care providers do not have the right to share details of your care or your medical records with anyone else. However, there are acceptions to these rules.

HIPAA provides the right of access to some people and organizations. These rights are very tightly regulated, meaning that there is no wiggle room for entities not listed to gain those rights. One group excluded from these rights are employers. You never have to provide medical records to employers under any circumstances, even if they’re providing your medical insurance.

The people and entities who have rights to your medical records include you, a loved or caregiver if they have written permission from you, your health care providers, your payers (such as insurance companies, workers comp, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid), the Federal or State government in certain situations, the Medical Information Bureau, and prescription databases.

You have a right to be informed

Every patient has a right to informed consent. This means that the provider will provide all the relevant information on a treatment option and test so you can decide whether or not you wish to undergo it. This includes an explanation of the benefits and risks, and it ensures that a patient has the right to make decisions about their own health.

As such, a doctor would be withholding your right to informed consent if they failed to, for instance, mention the risks associated with surgery. This right may sometimes include the need to give you a form so you can write your consent expressly.

Some exceptions to this right include when a patient lacks the capacity or ability to give or refuse permission legally, or if there is an emergency and the doctors have to act immediately to prevent harm.

You have a right to choose your treatment

The right to informed consent is an important component of the larger right to make decisions on your health care, including which treatment you opt for. You have the right to say “yes” to treatment even if there are risks to it. 

As mentioned, the doctor must ensure you’re informed about the treatment so that you’re making the choice with the full context of what it could mean. What’s important about this responsibility is that it means your doctor cannot make decisions about which treatment you should undergo for you, outside of some very specific circumstances.

As with informed consent, this right is waived if you are unable to make decisions based on your health care, due to a lack of capacity to understand for instance.

You have a right to refuse your treatment

The other side of the “informed consent” coin is that patients can also refuse treatment if they don’t want this. This includes treatments that may prolong your life or effectively treat a condition.

As such, some people may have a wish to object to a particular treatment on religious grounds or because it would impact their quality of life in ways they would not want. Even if a doctor heavily recommends a treatment, you have the right to refuse it.

There are limits to this right. The patient has to be of sound mind when they make the decision and capable of making the decision. Some exceptions include when the patient’s income is being subsidized by others during the period of treatment, but these are rare. In most cases, a patient who is of sound mind makes all of the decisions regarding their treatment.

You have state rights protecting your safety as a patient

There are also more specific rights that ensure you are protected from harm caused by the negligence or wrong-doing of your doctor and medical team. These rights can differ from state to state and if they are contradicted, it is often grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Understanding your local state’s laws on patient rights is vital before you pursue any medical malpractice suit. However, you may have grounds for one if, for instance, there is a failure to treat a condition, there are clear errors in the treatment, medicine was improperly prescribed, misdiagnoses were made, or there were unexpected injuries due to the treatment. These outcomes have to be the result of direct action by a health care professional to count as medical malpractice in most cases.

You have a right to decide what you want as your end of life care

Your right to informed consent and to make decisions about your health and treatment lasts your whole life. This even accounts for end of life care. As with all rights mentioned here, there are differences in the protections and rights that states afford.

In general, patients can make and record any decisions they make about their end of life care, including the option to accept or refuse life-prolonging treatments, like the use of feeding tubes or ventilators. For instance, a patient may place a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to refuse such treatments.

To make these decisions, a patient must have the mental capacity to consent, and as such, many people facing their end of life treatment will record such wishes ahead of time.

Be aware of your responsibilities, too

With all the rights that come with being a patient in the modern health care environment, there are also responsibilities that you must bear in mind. A patient is responsible for providing accurate information to their health care provider to the best of their knowledge. They are responsible for reporting new changes or symptoms, for keeping their appointments, and for meeting the financial obligations associated with the treatment. Most importantly, the patient is responsible for the outcomes of refusing treatment, providing they had informed consent when making the decision.

There are multiple ways to defend your patients’ rights if you think they have been violated. For instance, you can make a malpractice suit with the help of an attorney. You can also talk to your hospital’s patient advocate or get in touch with the department of health in your state. However you do it, it’s important to understand and exercise your rights without being impeded and to be able to trust the infrastructure that’s supposed to take care of us when we need it.

Staff Writer; Lisa Adams

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