What’s Covered Under the Patient’s Bill of Rights

The list of guarantees is designed to help patients get fair treatment and have control over their care. Learn your rights and which ones are protected by law.

When you’re in the hospital, you may feel like control over your health passes into the hands of your doctors and nurses. It’s a common feeling. After all, doctors and nurses do have medical training and tools the rest of us don’t. So we sometimes need to rely on them.

But healthcare in the modern world isn’t meant to be a one-way street. It should be a partnership between patients and their providers. As a patient, you are guaranteed certain rights. These rights empower you to play an active role in your medical treatment and care.

Patient rights come under the umbrella of human rights, but they apply to medical treatment, as Jacob P. Olejarczyk and Michael Young of Marian University note in their book Patient Rights and Ethics. Here’s what you need to know about your rights and how to protect them.

The Patient’s Bill of Rights: Then and Now

In 1973, the American Hospital Association (AHA) introduced the first patient bill of rights. It was not a legal document, but it was largely viewed as a medical milestone. It listed 15 rights. The emphasis was on:

  • Treating patients with respect.
  • Giving patients the information and power to make decisions about their treatment and care.
  • Protecting patient privacy.

The AHA sent the bill to healthcare institutions. They encouraged the institutions to edit the bill to fit their communities. They also advised using easy-to-read language. They wanted every patient to understand their rights.

With that goal of plain language in mind, the AHA replaced the bill in 2003 with The Patient Care Partnership. It’s a simple handout that clearly outlines what patients can expect during a hospital stay. On the list:

  • High-quality hospital care. 
  • A clean and safe environment. 
  • Involvement in your own care.  
  • Protection of your privacy. 
  • Help with billing and insurance claims. 
  • Preparation for follow-up care (or continuity of care) after leaving the hospital.

You may get the handout when you are admitted to a hospital. You can also ask for it. Again, it is not a legal document. But it does show a commitment to patient rights by the hospital and staff.

More recently, a new Patient’s Bill of Rights was put in place under the Affordable Care Act in 2010. These new protections give important rights to patients. They apply to nearly all health insurance plans. The new rules:

  • Stop insurance companies from excluding children with preexisting conditions, so they can gain coverage and keep it.
  • Protect your right to choose your doctors.
  • End lifetime insurance coverage limits on the care you may get.
  • Ban insurance companies from canceling your policy if you or your employer accidentally made a mistake on your paperwork.
  • Let you get emergency care without prior approval, even at a hospital outside your plan’s network.  

The new Patient’s Bill of Rights was designed to help put Americans in charge of their healthcare and their insurance coverage. It’s meant to stop insurance companies from coming between patients and their doctors. And because the bill is part of the Affordable Care Act, these rights are protected by law.

More Protections for Patient Rights

Many hospitals and medical facilities also have their own Patient’s Bill of Rights. In general, they aim to safeguard your right to get a copy of your medical records and keep them private or confidential. They also help protect your right to make informed decisions about a procedure or treatment. (This is also known as giving informed consent.) This means your healthcare provider must give you information so that you can make an informed decision. And they state your right to refuse treatment. Like The Patient Care Partnership, these rights are not enforced by law. But if they are not followed, it’s grounds for official complaint.

How to Make Sure You Have Your Rights

Understanding your rights as a patient is the first step toward making sure you get them. If your rights aren’t being met while you’re in the hospital, contact a patient advocate or representative there who can help you.

When you’re admitted to a hospital, you should be given a copy of the Patient’s Bill of Rights. It usually provides information on how to contact a patient advocate. It’s their job to:

  • Listen to patients’ concerns.
  • Respond to complaints.
  • Clearly explain hospital policies and procedures.
  • Settle problems or complaints so that you can focus on getting well.

Another tool you can use if your rights as a patient aren’t being honored: a digital health management app such as Wellframe. The app can connect you with a care advocate through your health plan. Your advocate can guide you on the next steps. Remember: Your patient rights are a key part of getting the treatment you want and need. And they pave the path to a successful recovery.

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