Being a patient in the hospital is for many people an unfamiliar experience. Going through the process can sometimes feel like it’s the hospital’s way or the highway. It is never the intention to make any customer feel that way, however, it seems somewhat natural to seem at the mercy of the experts in charge of your care. After all, you went to the hospital for help so now what? Rest assured, you have federally protected patient rights and it is the duty of healthcare providers to not only inform you of your rights and responsibilities, but also abide by them.
The Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, more commonly known as the Patient’s Bill of Rights, was put into effect in 1999 and is mandated for all hospitals. The objective of the Patient’s Bill of Rights is to outline the responsibilities of both the healthcare provider and the patient in the healthcare system. You are to be informed of your rights as a patient when admitted to the hospital. Your patient rights include:
- The right to be informed: Healthcare providers must give you information about your care in a way that you understand. This means that if you speak another language, are hearing or visually impaired, cannot read or need any type of assistance, the hospital is required to provide assistive services. This may come in a variety of different ways using technology such as a computer with a two-way camera or the telephone for example. There is also the option to utilize a person within the organization to actually be at the bedside to help with sign language or language interpretation. The most important thing to understand is that interpreter services must be certified. Having a family member or a random individual within the organization who can meet the need but is not certified does not meet the required standard.
- The right to choose a provider: In a hospital, you will be assigned to an attending physician. This is the doctor in charge of your care. If for whatever reason you are not pleased with that physician, you have the right to request a new doctor. Some hospitals will help facilitate this for you, however others might require you to speak to your attending physician and coordinate transferring your care to another doctor.
- The right to emergency care: The bottom line is that an emergency department is not allowed by law to refuse anyone seeking emergency care, period. Doing so would be a violation of federal EMTALA (Emergency Treatment and Lab or Act) law.
- The right to participate in your treatment plan: It is the responsibility of your care team to keep you fully informed of your treatment options and with you decide on the best course of action. This is called your plan of care. You also have the right to determine a loved one to be involved as well or even make decisions for you if you cannot do so.
- The right to respect and non-discrimination: You will be treated in the same manner regardless of your diagnosis, medical or social history, race, religion or insurance status. Everyone on your care team has one goal and that is to help you safely transition from the hospital setting back to home.
- The right for your health information to be kept private: Healthcare personnel take patients’ privacy very seriously. Physician consultations, nursing shift reports and assessments and therapy evaluations should all be carried out with the utmost sensitivity to your privacy. Discussions about your health and plan of care should take place in a private setting. This could be your hospital room or some other quiet conference or family room. Do not hesitate to speak up if you feel you need to move to a more private location to talk about your health information.
- The right to complaints and appeals: If you remember one thing about being a patient in a hospital, remember that there is always a supervisor available. No one should feel helpless if something about your care or care providers is not going well. Leadership in just about any hospital would prefer to help solve any problem during your stay. If you do need to file a complaint, you have the right for it to be addressed in a fair and timely manner.
Along with rights that patients are afforded also comes responsibilities of the patient as well. As the scope of the US healthcare system evolves from a care model to a prevention model, consumers play a huge part in working with their care team to become and stay healthy. In the hospital, from the moment you are admitted the care team is planning your transition home including strategies to keep you healthy and prevent you from being readmitted. This plan will not be successful without your direct involvement.
Just as it is the responsibility of your care team to first do no harm and do their due diligence to provide excellent care, it is also the patient’s responsibility to respect healthcare workers and other patients in terms of communication, interaction and privacy. This mutual respect is what will allow for open communication regarding your plan of care during the immediate and long terms.
Finally, it is also the responsibility of the patient to understand their healthcare benefits and financial obligations. The Centers for Medicare reports that in 2014, 17.5% of the US economy was related to healthcare costs which equates to $3 trillion. Of that, the cost for hospital care alone was just shy of $972 billion. In 2015, these costs grew by 5.8% which is about $9,990 per person. Healthcare is very expensive and consumers have the responsibility to fulfill their financial obligations when services are utilized. There are always options for paying healthcare bills. In the hospital, the case management and billing departments are very instrumental in assisting patients to understand their insurance coverage and make arrangements for any bills that may be incurred.
When patients understand their rights and responsibilities, the process through the healthcare system will be smoother. Creating a partnership between consumer and provider promotes better health outcomes and decreased costs.