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Patient Rights

Patient Rights Definition and Overview

Patient rights are those basic rule of conduct between patients and medical caregivers as well as the institutions and people that support them. A patient is anyone who has requested to be evaluated by or who is being evaluated by any healthcare professional. Medical caregivers include hospitals, healthcare personnel, as well as insurance agencies or any payors of medical-related costs. This is a broad definition, but there are other slightly more specific definitions. For example, a legal definition is as follows; patient rights is general statement adopted by most healthcare professionals, covering such matters as access to care, patient dignity, confidentiality, and consent to treatment.

No matter what definition is used, most patients and doctors are finding that many of the details of patient rights have changed and are continuing to change over time. This article is designed to give the reader a basic introduction to patient rights.

Often, people do not realize their specific rights at the time of their care because those rights are either not clearly defined or included in a bundle of papers that patients need to sign during registration. Some basic rights are that all patients that seek care at an emergency department have the right to a screening exam and patients that cannot afford to pay are not turned away. The details of these rights are detailed in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) laws in the U.S. In addition, many people think that patient rights are only applicable between themselves and their doctor. This is not the situation; as stated in the first definition, patient rights can be extensive and exist between many people and institutions. Most notably, they can exist between patients, any medical caregiver, hospitals, laboratories, insurers and even secretarial help and housekeepers that may have access to patients or their medical records.

It is not possible in this article to list all of patient's rights. However, most written rights that doctors and hospital personnel have patients read (and sign) are abbreviated statements that are summaries of all or parts of the American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics. Many of these patient rights have been written into state or federal laws and if violated, may result in fines or even prison time.

This article will focus on the doctor patient relationship and present areas of greatest concerns. Readers should understand that in most instances, when the word "doctor" is used, the reader may substitute many other names such as nurse, caregiver, hospital, insurer, doctor's office personnel and many others. A patient's rights in relation to their doctors occur at many different levels, and in all specialties. As stated above, the American Medical Association (AMA) outlines fundamental elements of the doctor-patient relationship in their Code of Medical Ethics. These rights include the following in the 2012-2013 book (568 pages!) and have the various topics covered in great detail:

  • 1.00 - Introduction
  • 2.00 - Opinions on Social Policy Issues
  • 3.00 - Opinions on Interprofessional Relations
  • 4.00 - Opinions on Hospital Relations
  • 5.00 - Opinions on Confidentiality, Advertising, and Communications Media Relations
  • 6.00 - Opinions on Fees and Charges
  • 7.00 - Opinions on Physician Records
  • 8.00 - Opinions on Practice Matters
  • 9.00 - Opinions on Professional Rights and Responsibilities
  • 10.00 - Opinions on the Patient-Physician Relationship

According to the AMA, physicians should also serve as advocates for patients and promote the basic patient rights.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/27/2013

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