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Understanding your health care rights

by Kristy Naylor RN and Marcy Kleinjan RN
| November 16, 2022 12:00 AM

Ending last month with ways to save your hard earned dollars and get better care, we thought our focus this month would be knowing your rights. As nurses for many years this is something that we are very passionate about, but through the years have come to discover that not many people fully understand, especially when related to your health care.

Every health care office, clinic, hospital, facility, agency, etc has a patient bill of rights. It is required by law. The Patient's Bill of Rights was created to try to reach 3 major goals:

1.To help patients feel more confident in the US healthcare system; the Bill of Rights, which assures that the health care system is fair and it works to meet patients' needs, gives patients a way to address any problems they may have, and encourages patients to take an active role in staying or getting healthy.

2.To stress the importance of a strong relationship between patients and their health care providers

3.To stress the key role patients play in staying healthy by laying out rights and responsibilities for all patients and health care providers.

Most Bill of Rights focus on hospitals and insurance plans, but there are many others with different focuses. There are special kinds, like the mental health bill of rights, hospice patient's bill of rights, and bills of rights for patients in certain states. Insurance plans sometimes have lists of rights for subscribers. Many of these lists of rights tell you where to go or whom to talk with if you have a problem with your care. The American Hospital Association has a list of rights along with patient responsibilities that can help a person be a more active partner in his or her health.

As a patient, you have certain rights. Some are guaranteed by federal law, such as the right to get a copy of your medical records, and the right to keep them private. Many states have additional laws protecting patients, and healthcare facilities often have a patient bill of rights.

One important patient right is informed consent. This means that if you need a treatment, your health care provider must give you the information you need to make a decision. Other rights include; information about quality, choosing a healthcare provider, right to emergency care, right to make decisions, right to respect, right to confidentiality and right to complaint.

Many hospitals have patient advocates who can help you if you have problems. Many states have an ombudsman office for problems with long term care. Your state's department of health may also be able to help.

A patient bill of rights sets standards based on the ideal that no patient—like no citizen—should have more rights than any other. Whether you are enrolled in Medicare or Medicaid or are a veteran or government employee, whether you are covered by an employer or buy your own health insurance, and even if you have no healthcare coverage at all, these rights apply to you.

The important takeaway is to know that you as a patient and recipient of healthcare services have rights and it will benefit you to know what those rights are. Read the fine print and ask questions. If you don’t get answers to the questions ask for an advocate or ombudsman to assist. Until next time. Stay healthy and be well.