Patient Rights

Like it or not, you are probably going to spend time in the hospital at some point in your life. Whether in the emergency or operating room, the intensive care unit or maternity ward, knowing your rights as a patient is an important step you can take to ensure you receive quality medical care. But where to start? How do you find out what your patient rights are? Who makes sure that those rights are observed? We at Viva are here to help.

A good place to start is at the patient’s bill of rights. But, did you know there wasn’t just one? That’s right, what started in the 1970s as a movement advocating for more restricted physician power soon turned into a number of different bills. There are bills adopted and endorsed by local organizations, there are bills for specific sectors of the healthcare industry (like the Mental Health Bill of Rights), and there are even states’ bills - although Alabama does not have one.

However, the most important bills to be aware of are the new Patient’s Bill of Rights created along with the Affordable Care Act in 2010 and the Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities adopted by the US Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Healthcare Industry in 1998.

The Affordable Care Act’s new Patient’s Bill of Rights, along with the Consumer Bill of Rights created in 1998, ensures protections for people in the healthcare setting as well as in dealing with their insurance companies. These protections include an end to arbitrary withdrawal of insurance coverage, the right to have an objective review of a complaint, the right to choose health care providers, the right to take part in treatment decisions, and the ending of annual and lifetime limits to insurance coverage. For a complete list of rights and protections guaranteed by these two bills, check out http://www.cms.gov/CCIIO/Programs-and-Initiatives/Health-Insurance-Market-Reforms/Patients-Bill-of-Rights.html and http://www.cancer.org/treatment/findingandpayingfortreatment/understandingfinancialandlegalmatters/patients-bill-of-rights.

It’s also a good idea to be familiar with the the HIPAA Privacy Rule. The HIPAA Privacy Rule governs who can and cannot have access to your medical information and defines the control you have over your own records. It provides codified federal guidelines that cover issues ranging from whether or not your healthcare provider can share your health information with people involved in your care if you are unconscious to whether or not a health care provider can share information with your family or friends. Here is an excellent guide to understanding the HIPAA Privacy Rule and you can visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website for more information.

Another resource for protecting your rights and ensuring quality medical treatment is a patient advocate. Often registered nurses or social workers, patient advocates are people whose job it is to help patients navigate their way through the health care system. A patient advocate’s primary duty is to ensure open lines of communication between patient and physician and to help the patient understand medical processes and procedures. They are sometimes part of the hospital staff, but some advocates work for patient advocate organization and provide their services for a fee. There is no official accreditation for patient advocates and they aren’t available in all areas of the United States, so it’s a good idea to do a quick search to see if there are any patient advocate services near you.

Finally, the last patient rights resources covered here are doctors and nurses. Good physicians have a patient’s best interest at heart and will be forthcoming about your rights as a person receiving medical treatment. Medical practitioners make certain pledges upon entering and graduating medical school pertaining to the ethical treatment of their patients. Many physicians, roughly 30%, follow the American Medical Association’s Code of Medical Ethics.

However, finding a doctor that is communicative, transparent, and honest ultimately depends on your as well as the flexibility of your health insurance plan. Don’t forget about nurses, either. They, too, take their own oaths of ethical treatment. These men and women are on the front lines of patient care and are often just as knowledgeable about your rights as a patient as doctors are.

Due to the number of different standards by which physicians and other medical practitioners adhere and because there is no single patient’s bill rights, reporting violations can be a complicated matter. Sometimes, violations can be reported to the Department of Health and Humans Services or with the hospital itself. Other resources include state medical associations or licensing boards. Here is a list of individual states’ licensing boards.

In summary, patient rights is a broad subject. Much of the responsibility of knowing those rights and ensuring they’re enforced falls on the shoulders of the patient himself. Given that, it is important to be fully informed. Ask your healthcare professionals, reach out to a patient advocate, and read as much as you can. And don’t forget to get the right coverage! Visit our Making Medicare Easy site for information about plans that fit your lifestyle, and budget, the best.

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