7 Ways to Protect Your Rights as a Patient
We trust our doctors with our lives. But that doesn't mean that we don't have rights as patients. While medical professionals can give us expert advice on our health care, we have the ultimate say on our medical decisions.
At times, we have to be our own health care advocates, and it helps to know what our patient rights are and how to assert them. Here are seven ways to protect your patient rights:
- Understand Your Health Insurance: Granted, health insurance policies aren't the easiest to understand. But many carriers offer outlines of their coverage and can answer any questions you have about what's covered and your health care costs.
- Understand Your Employer's Policies: The Family and Medical Leave Act is a federal law that has guarantees 12 weeks unpaid leave per year, but only if your employer qualifies. Some states and cities have different leave requirements, and some employers offer more than others, so being familiar with your employer's policy is essential.
- Understand Your Diagnosis: Medical information and options for treatment can be complex, so you may want to invite a trusted friend or family member to join you when discussing your healthcare with your physician. Also, if you don't like the way you're being treated or don't believe your physician is providing the best possible care, you have the right to seek a second opinion. But you may want to check ahead of time with your health insurance, because not all doctors are covered and a second opinion may not be free.
- Understand Informed Consent: Absent an emergency, medical practitioners are required to obtain a patient's "informed consent" before providing medical care or treatment. This means a physician (or other medical provider) must tell you all of the potential benefits, risks, and alternatives involved in any surgical procedure, medical procedure, or other course of treatment, and must obtain your written consent to proceed. Make sure your physician explains all the potential treatments to you, whether or not your health insurance will pay for them.
- Understand Your Right to Refuse Medical Treatment: You have the right to refuse medical treatment. You can also leave a hospital or healthcare facility against medical advice, but you may be required to sign a form indicating refusal of treatment in order to absolve facilities from future malpractice claims.
- Understand Your Right to Your Medical Information and Records: In most cases, doctors cannot give your personal medical information to others without your permission. In addition, keeping your own records of your healthcare treatment and making sure to inform your primary physician of treatment you have received from other doctors can aid in your diagnosis and treatment.
- Understand Your Future Healthcare Decisions: There may be a time when you can't make medical decisions for yourself. Drafting a healthcare directive like a living will or durable power of attorney can help make those decisions should you be incapacitated.
Understanding and asserting your rights as a patient can be complicated. You may want to consult an experienced attorney to help you know your patient rights and make sure your health care decisions are followed.