Understanding Your Medical Rights

By Kirstie & Jorie

When it comes to knowing your rights with the medical field, things can get murky. The fine print isn’t always easy to read and most of us sign our names away anyway, prompted by quick receptionists and needing to just get it done.

But do you really know what your rights are as a patient? And do you follow them each time you visit your doctor?

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) and the AMA (American Medical Association) Code of Medical Ethics have compiled lists of rights you as a patient are guaranteed when you see a doctor or receive any type of medical care.

If you ever feel you’ve not been treated properly under any of these terms or that something is awry, always speak up! This is your health we’re talking about. If the doctor or practice isn’t compliant with these rules, it can become a legal battle.

Here are a few of the top patient rights to remember. This is not a full list, but you can find comprehensive lists at the HIPAA or AMA websites.


Informed Consent and Voluntary Consent:

This involves the patient’s understanding of the following:
– What the doctor is proposing to do,
– Whether the doctor’s proposal is a minor procedure or major surgery,
– The nature and purpose of the treatment,
– Intended effects versus possible side effects,
– The risks and anticipated benefits involved, and
– All reasonable alternatives including risks and possible benefits.


Doctor-patient interaction should always remain confidential. The physician should never reveal confidential information unless the patient wants this information disclosed to others, or unless required to do so by law. There are certain stipulations that vary from state to state — do your research to see what circumstances override your right to confidentiality.

The Right to Health Care:

You have a right to be treated and receive health care regardless of any aspect of your social status or whether you hold insurance or not. Laws such as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) help cover you in these circumstances.


A doctor has a duty to continue to treat a patient while medically necessarily or until the patient no longer requires care, otherwise they can be charged with negligent abandonment, unless they provide means or transfer, referral, or proper discharge.

Right to Refuse Treatment:

If you are not happy with a certain treatment or simply do not want treatment such as with emergency services, you have the right to say no as long as you are deemed mentally competent.

Even though this is a fairly detailed list, there are many other rights you have as well. One of the lesser known rights we have is “firing” our physicians, essentially “dumping” your doctor and seeking a second opinion. This is a big one because many patients do not realize that they can simply walk away.

If you do not like the way your physician treats you, you don’t trust them, or if they aren’t providing you with the best care, you can leave. You have the right to take an active stance in your medical care.

It can seem daunting, though, to have to face the reality of firing a doctor or even enforcing some of those rights we listed above. Many of us feel embarrassed and nervous to have to say “I don’t want to see you anymore” or “this doesn’t seem right” because we think doctors know all. That’s not the case though; be your own advocate and notice when things are not going the right way.

Here are some steps you can take to both ensure you’re following your rights and have a positive experience with your doctors:

Ask any questions that you feel are important to you.

Do not get hung up on the idea that it is a “stupid” question. If you are curious about it, then you have the right to ask and receive an honest answer from your nurse or doctor.

You have the right to be told about alternative courses of treatment.

Even if your health insurance may not cover them, you need to know your options. If you find that your physician is hesitant, stating clearly that you are aware of your rights to know all possible options whether or not you can pay for them, may help. You have the right to refuse consent. If you refuse consent, you may be asked to read and sign a form indicating refusal of said treatments.

Be your own patient advocate and do your own research.

Doctors are human too, and often one treatment or medication may not come to mind for them. Often times doing some digging or research and presenting your own findings to your doctor can be beneficial. Even medication-wise! The doctor can read over your findings and see if they can determine whether or not that term of action is best suited to your needs.

Do not assume that all your doctors know about your other treatments or medications.

If you have seen specialists since last seeing your primary physician, bring a list of any other physicians you have seen and any new medications you’ve been prescribed. Bring a pad of paper and pen with you to any visit. Write down a summary of everything your physician tells you as he or she is telling it to you. That way, you can review your notes later to refresh your memory, or research into your treatment plan.

Take good care of yourself.

Always follow the advice and guidelines of your physician to the best of your ability, but above all listen to your gut and know your body. Your well-being or even your life could depend on it.




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