Knowing Your Medical Rights

In this Article:
Knowing Your Medical Rights
The Patient’s Bill of Rights
Patient Responsibilities

Doctors have a strong hold over many of us; we see them as authoritative figures whose academic background was grueling and whose training was rigorous. Combined with their years of practice, the safest bet seems to assume they’re right on the question of our health, even if it means defying our own instincts.

Every patient, to the extent he or she can, should be an equal partner with his doctor in getting well and staying well, but this near-holy view of physicians does not for a moment suggest an equal partnership.

What often gets lost is the patient’s right to question his doctor, to be uncertain about a treatment protocol, to demand a more detailed explanation of it, and to decide for himself if he wants to go along with the treatment, or refuse it.

To that end, the following piece discusses informed consent, the Patient’s Bill of Rights, as well as advance directives and other topics crucial to the well-being of every patient in a doctor’s care.


Informed Consent


Informed consent is built on a basic principle: Your body, your health, your life. You will be living with the outcomes of a treatment plan. Therefore, you should—and do—have the right to be informed on every aspect of treatment or a procedure until you understand it sufficiently to make an informed decision about whether you want to accept it or not. Hospitals will ask you to sign a consent form that permits them to give you medical treatment. Since they are not the same at every hospital, please consider the following tips:

• DO NOT blindly sign any forms, read them first, even if they tell you the forms are ‘just standard bureaucracy’ or some other excuse to hurry the process along.

• DO NOT fear asking questions and being difficult. This is your life, your health, you are entitled to a detailed explanation of your treatment

• DO NOT sign an open release form if you can help it. They permit the hospital to carry out whatever tests and procedures it wants to, thereby eliminating one element from the decision process: you. Signing an open release means they no longer need to ask you first. Make sure they need to ask you first.

You do not need to be passive about your medical treatment, although it seems to have become expected of patients, to be told that a certain procedure is ‘routine’ and that ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ and to expect that you don’t have any questions. Well you should have plenty of questions, and you should insist that the physician(s) or health care professionals give you the following information:

• The medical name or term, and a description, of the treatment or procedure in question.

• A comprehensive itemization of the benefits of this treatment or procedure and its risks, including the risk of disability or death

• Alternative treatment options and procedures and their benefits and risks, and why your doctor has chosen this one over the others

• What is most likely to occur, according to published statistics, if you refuse.

• The odds that the treatment will be successful, along with your doctor’s definition of ‘successful.’

• What you can expect while you recuperate, and how long it might be before you can resume your daily life.

• Side effects that can affect you directly, personally or professionally. Perhaps one risk of the proposed treatment is compromised vision; this risk may not be remotely acceptable to you.

• Additional information pertaining to your situation including what it will cost, whether you have health insurance or not.

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