Healthcare Awareness: Patient Rights and Responsibilities

Debra Reynolds

Medical Malpractice- Your Rights and Responsibilities

It is safe to assume that most people have either signed or were provided a document regarding their rights and responsibilities as a patient receiving healthcare at a hospital. Whether this form was signed on your own behalf or on behalf of minor children or incapacitated loved ones, we have all likely been exposed to this document. But what does it say and what does it really mean?

Hospitals are required by law to provide information to the patient on their rights and responsibilities as recipients of the hospital’s healthcare delivery. Most of the rights and responsibilities are common sense, things that would be expected. In other words, you would expect nothing less than “high quality hospital care” and “a clean and safe environment”. The list goes on. But what happens when the expected becomes the exception, potentially leading to medical malpractice?

Healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, or radiology techs, should, as a routine, involve the patient and his or her family in their care and treatment. Many healthcare providers have only just met their patient. When healthcare providers are offered insight into what works best for the patient or what does not, healthcare delivery can be much more streamlined. This complementing team approach benefits the patient, the family, and the healthcare team and allows for delivery of efficient and personalized care. Involvement is, after all, what is expected as a part of your hospitalization, your follow up visits, and routine medical care. However, in today’s healthcare arena, a lot gets lost in shorter hospital stays, short staffing at hospitals, assumptions of a patient’s understanding, etc. Just because someone has been a diabetic for 25 years does not mean they do not need counseling on diabetes.

Effective communication is a must when maintaining a cohesive patient-caregiver relationship. When communication breaks, leaving the patient and his or her family uninvolved in the decision making process, the potential for harm stands ready (perhaps even leading to medical malpractice). Within the patient’s rights is the right to be involved and to accept (or consent) or reject (against medical advice) the treatment that is either being advanced or withheld. Only in very rare circumstances should the healthcare team act independently without the consent of the patient. For example, where the patient cannot respond for himself or herself, the family or next of kin cannot be reached and the situation is an emergency. Your involvement in healthcare decisions, whether for you or a loved one, should never be the exception. Make sure you know and understand your rights and responsibilities to optimize your patient care experience.

By Debra S. Reynolds, RN, JD – As a registered nurse and licensed attorney in the State of Texas, Debra represents patients and their families who have been injured as a result of medical negligence.