As a patient, you have important rights, and as we all know, with rights come responsibilities. You have a responsibility to know what your rights are so that you can protect yourself and your loved ones. You will find the “Patient Bill of Rights” below.  Study it until you feel confident that you know and understand your rights.

You have other rights, too, simply by virtue of the fact that you are a human being who deserves compassionate care. One of those rights is the right not to wait weeks and even months for basic information and compassionate support.

Many patients – if not most – learn that they have a serious illness or condition from their surgeons, radiologists, primary care physicians or other medical professionals who are not specialists in that specific illness or condition. As a result, they may initially receive only minimal – if any – information about their diagnoses. The usual process involves the scheduling of yet more tests while patients are sent home to wait…and wait…and wait.

Additional tests and a certain amount of waiting are necessary evils. More tests help further define the diagnosis and provide information that will be helpful in treatment. Unfortunately for the worried patient and his family, these tests and their interpretation take time.

But waiting weeks or even months for lab and other test results is unnecessary and usually the result of disorganization and/or laziness in the office where the test was conducted or the office to which the results were sent.  Be proactive.  Call your doctor’s office and ask for your test results.  If you feel like you’re getting the run-around, leave a specific message asking for the doctor to return your call.  Call at the beginning of his office hours, again in the middle of the day if you haven’t heard back, and again at the end of the day if you still haven’t had a return phone call.  Don’t be shy, and don’t be intimidated.  Be polite, but be firm.  This is your life we’re talking about here, and you have a right to timely answers.

As soon as you learn that you or a loved one has a life-threatening illness or condition, request a referral to a doctor who specializes in that field.  Don’t accept an answer of “It’s too soon” or “It isn’t necessary.”  We know of cases where referrals have been made even before tests confirmed a serious diagnosis; compassionate physicians made these referrals in an effort to help calm the patient’s fears and make the wait for further results more tolerable. In every case, meeting with a specialist gave the patient a better understanding of what he was facing and the reassurance that he would be supported and cared for throughout his illness.

If your insurance doesn’t accommodate such referrals, ask the diagnosing physician to put you in touch with a patient advocate, social worker and/or other support person who can assist you as you begin to understand your diagnosis.

You have the right and the responsibility to learn all you can about your diagnosis, treatment options and available support services. Remember that knowledge is power.

The Patient’s Bill Of Rights

The following was adopted by the US Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry in 1998.

  • Information Disclosure. You have the right to accurate and easily understood information about your health plan, health care professionals, and health care facilities. If you speak another language, have a physical or mental disability, or just don’t understand something, assistance will be provided so you can make informed health care decisions.
  • Choice of Providers and Plans. You have the right to a choice of health care providers that is sufficient to provide you with access to appropriate high-quality health care.
  • Access to Emergency Services. If you have severe pain, an injury, or sudden illness that convinces you that your health is in serious jeopardy, you have the right to receive screening and stabilization emergency services whenever and wherever needed, without prior authorization or financial penalty.
  • Participation in Treatment Decisions. You have the right to know your treatment options and to participate in decisions about your care. Parents, guardians, family members, or other individuals that you designate can represent you if you cannot make your own decisions.
  • Respect and Nondiscrimination. You have a right to considerate, respectful and nondiscriminatory care from your doctors, health plan representatives, and other health care providers.
  • Confidentiality of Health Information. You have the right to talk in confidence with health care providers and to have your health care information protected. You also have the right to review and copy your own medical record and request that your physician change your record if it is not accurate, relevant, or complete.
  • Complaints and Appeals. You have the right to a fair, fast, and objective review of any complaint you have against your health plan, doctors, hospitals or other health care personnel. This includes complaints about waiting times, operating hours, the conduct of health care personnel, and the adequacy of health care facilities.