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Six Important Patient Rights to Consider in Making Health Decisions

Important Rights to Consider as a Patient
by WidaaMD08/07/2015

When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, few patients actually understand just exactly what such rights entail. By patient rights, I am referring to the physician’s responsibilities towards you (the patient,) and the limitations of such rights. It is important to understand these rights to be able to better assess your health condition, treatment options, and enhance the quality of communication between you and your physician.

So what rights do I have as a patient?

First and foremost, you have the right of  autonomy in health care decisions. Autonomy basically means that you have the right to make an informed, uncoerced decision regarding your medical management and treatment. This means that you, as a competent patient, may accept or refuse any diagnostic test, intervention, or medication based on your judgement and understanding of the treatment  options made available to you. This autonomy brings us to the second right you also have as a patient.

You have the right to refuse medical treatment.

Although you should generally have a strong understanding of the recommendations made to you by your physician, you do, in fact, have the right to refuse any medical treatment offered to you. You must bear in mind, however, that there are limitations to this right and not all patients can actually refuse treatment. Children or minors, for example, and during most circumstances, do not have this same right, and cannot refuse treatment unless they are emancipated. Emancipated children include those who are married, have served in the military, or who have been taking care of themselves and living alone for some time. As a parent, you do have the right to make treatment decisions or to refuse treatment for your child in most cases, however, if the child’s condition is life threatening, such rights may not be applicable and the physician may administer treatment despite your refusal.

The Rights of Patient Privacy & Confidentiality

This is probably one of the most concerning rights, concerning many patients seeking medical consultation and treatment. You may rest assured that indeed all patients have the right to privacy, and that their respective physicians cannot divulge information aboutt his or her patients without their formal consent. Physicians may however, and do so frequently, discuss their patients with other physicians in the form of a consultation. This is not a breech of patient privacy as the goal is to optimize patient care and management, and the consulted physician is in turn bound by the same rights of privacy of the patient in question. Despite popular opinion and what is commonly portrayed on television shows and movies, the fact that a family member requests information regarding the patient’s health condition does not bypass this right, and even family members cannot be told about the patient’s health condition without his or her prior consent.

The Right to Receive Informed Consent

Before undergoing any invasive procedure, such as a blood transfusion, a lumbar puncture, or even a bone biopsy, you must have all the information regarding the available procedure be presented to you in a manner which is understandable. Important information to look for is

  • 1. The rationale or the reason why the procedure is being performed.

You may be undergoing a blood transfusion because you are anemic and your dizziness, headache, and pounding heart beats or palpitations are due to your low hemoglobin level, resulting in decreased oxygen delivery to your tissues and requiring a blood transfusion to raise your hemoglobin level back to within normal range. You may need a lumbar puncture as your physician suspects that your fever, headache, and stiff neck may be caused by meningitis. Regardless of the reason, you must be sure to fully understand the reason why the procedure is being performed prior to giving your consent.

  • 2. The nature of the procedure itself.

This will most likely be a brief explanation of  what the procedure or other intervention involves, including the technical details of the procedure. Be sure to understand exactly what is going to happen during the procedure so that you know what to expect, and minimize any unwanted anxiety you may have on the day of the procedure.

  • 3. Risks and Possible Complications

This is probably one of the most concerning components of informed consent, which many patients readily request as soon as an invasive procedure is suggested by their physician. Be sure to understand that many procedures are accompanied by risks, such as bleeding or infection, and although in many cases the presented risk is slight, and must be weighed against the expected benefit, such risks must be presented to you before you give your consent.

  • 4. The presence of suitable alternatives

Your physician must also explain to you any potential alternative procedures, interventions, and treatments which may be substituted for the procedure or treatment in question, or otherwise suitable for your health condition. These may even include non FDA approved treatments such as herbal remedies, if the patient chooses such an approach to treatment. Important information to note is how alternatives differ from the suggested intervention in terms of diagnostic and therapeutic ability. By being presented with all the possible treatment options, you may choose what you believe to be the best option for you.

How can I give my consent?

You may give your consent for the procedure either verbally or in written form. Many hospitals and clinics will require you to sign a written medical consent form for medico-legal purposes. However, keep in mind that even written consent can be revoked verbally at any time.

The Right to State DNR orders:

DNR means “Do not resuscitate.” In the event that for some reason you experience some form of cardiopulmonary arrest in which your circulation or breathing stop, you may not want to be subject to the traumatic experience of cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR. You should state such wishes early in the course of treatment, and physicians are obligated to follow them. Keep in mind that DNR orders do not influence any ongoing treatments or medications you are currently receiving, and such interventions will continue.

You Decide When Treatment Stops

Although in some cases there may simply be no more treatment options which can be offered to the patient, a bleak appearing outcome is never an absolute indication to discontinue treatment. As long as you wish to receive treatment you may do so, despite an unfavorable or futile prognosis regarding your health condition.

Understand your Rights

This is only an overview of some of the most important rights you have as a patient. The list is not all encompassing, and you do have rights beyond these, as there are special rights for subcategories of patients, such as the mentally ill for example. By understanding these rights, you can carefully consider your options, request the correct information from your physician, and enhance the efficiency of the doctor-patient relationship to communicate your wishes regarding your health care more efficiently.

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WidaaMD
WidaaMD is founder and chief editor at Dr.Discuss. As a physician and part-time web developer, he enjoys building new online projects and startups which are both fun, entertaining, and offer educational value to the public. Dr.Discuss is one of those projects.
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