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Patient Advocate Report Article Database: Patient Tools

The Patient's Bill of Rights (and the Advocate's Role)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Arti Patel
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The U.S. government, at both federal and state levels, offers all patients specific rights within the healthcare system. While most people are unaware of the full range of their rights and it is often the job of the physicians and nurses involved with a patient to explain in detail his or her options while receiving hospitalized care.

Hospitals across the country keep patient advocates on staff, mainly to help guide patients through the muddied medical waters in order to help them make a decision on a course of treatment or weigh the pros and cons of an experimental surgery. It is up to the professionals working within the system to be both a sounding board and educator for the patient in question.

In essence, the government allows all patients the right of access to their medical records while simultaneously shielding their records under privacy laws so only physicians and nurses associated with their treatment plans are allowed to view them. In addition, all patients are afforded the opportunity to have a say in what type of treatment they want to receive, if any at all.

Patients also have the right to refuse any offered treatment, and the right of written consent ensures a level of knowledge and understanding between the medical staff carrying out the procedures and the patient and his or her support system about what type of aid the patient is consenting to receive. Above all, the patient also has a legal right to determine a course of end-of-life care, which for most means deciding whether to sign do-not-resuscitate forms prior to surgery and other forms like advance directives.

Outlining Professional Behavior

The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics outlines behavior each medical professional must carry out when building the doctor-patient relationship. The most basic right a patient has is to adequate healthcare. The Association claims also that this healthcare must be continuous and confidential and that patients had the right to be treated with courtesy, respect, dignity, with responsiveness and in a timely manner as dictated by the severity of the care required.

Also, the patient and physician are supposed to be in an openly communicative relationship where the information flow is open and honest between them and the doctor, at all times, clearly discusses the benefits, risks and costs of each treatment option available before the patient alone chooses a treatment plan.

In 1998 the U.S. Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry adopted the Consumer Bill of Rights and Responsibilities, commonly known as the "Patient’s Bill of Rights,” as it is meant to empower healthcare patients to utilize the system without fear of unfairness, mistreatment or care avoidance on the part of the provider.

The Patient’s Bill of Rights stresses the importance of a healthy relationship between the healthcare provider and the patient and plays a key role in outlining all the rules, regulations and stipulations on the part of the healthcare provider when dealing with all patients. Medicare and Medicaid stand by the Patient’s Bill of Rights, as do many other nationally recognized and statewide healthcare agencies and facilities.

Of course, the Affordable Care Act defines a new Patient's Bill of Rights, as encapsulated in the landmark health reform law that expands insurance coverage and promotes healthcare for all.

Promoting Privacy

The rights of adult patients is universally understood and respected, but many times, especially if the patient is underage or comes from family units with dominating members, healthcare professionals like physicians, nurses and advocates often abandon the patient’s feelings in favor or the parents and/or guardians preferences. This is viewed as the wrong path to choose. It may seem an easier route and more direct because of the assumption that the patient will go along with the wishes of the parent or guardian, but it is the wrong choice to make as the medical professional.

Children, especially pre-teens and teenagers, have a separate life than their parents. The implementation of doctor-patient confidentiality must be stressed in cases involving minors. Under the law parents are the decision-makers for their children under 17, but most parents are not fully informed enough about the lives their children lead, especially their teenaged children, to really judge what is the best course of action.

Privacy is an unalienable right of all patients. As such, each medical professional, from general physicians and surgeons to nurses and especially patient advocates, should spend one-on-one time with underage patients, especially if there is any doubt to the validity or accuracy of the information being provided by the parent or the child in the presence of the parent.

For many professionals dealing with privacy issues, HIPPA is a good place to start.

It is really up to the healthcare industry and all the workers within the system to truly help the patients along when making their life and death decisions during the emergency atmosphere of a hospital setting. It is stressful and worrisome, but physicians, nurses and especially patient advocates are the ones that need to enforce the rules every step of the way to make sure the patient truly understands all of his or her options at each step of the way and at every price point available.

When it comes to the healthcare industry, no one needs more assistance than the person receiving the care. These individuals are sickly, weak, stressed, scared and usually alone in their struggles. Help them by empowering them with as much knowledge as possible to help ease their paths. Navigating the road to recovery is difficult enough for patients without having the added pressure of their driving companions in the healthcare industry giving them false directions.

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