Patient rights


Patient rights encompass legal and ethical issues in the provider-patient relationship, including a person's right to privacy, the right to quality medical care without prejudice, the right to make informed decisions about care and treatment options, and the right to refuse treatment.


The purpose of delineating patient rights is to ensure the ethical treatment of persons receiving medical or other professional health care services. Without exception, all persons in all settings are entitled to receive ethical treatment.


Many issues comprise the rights of patients in the medical system, including a person's ability to sue a health plan provider; access to emergency and specialty care, diagnostic testing, and prescription medication without prejudice; confidentiality and protection of patient medical information; and continuity of care.

Health care reform led to an emergence of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and other managed health care plans. The rapid change in medical care moved health care decision making from medical professionals to business entities, a move many consider to be detrimental to the health care industry in general. Establishing a patient's bill of rights has been the response to this concern. The Bipartisan Patient Protection Act of 2001 has been debated and passed by the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives and signed into law.

At issue, besides basic rights of care and privacy, is the education of patients concerning what to expect of their health care facility and its providers. These basic rights include the right to:

The patient is also expected to meet a fair share of responsibility by following the plan of care, providing complete and accurate health information, and communicating comprehension of instructions on procedures and treatment. The patient is further responsible for consequences of refusal of treatment, of not following the rules and regulations of a hospital, and of not being considerate of others' rights. The patient is also responsible for providing assurance that financial obligations of care are met.

The American Hospital Association provides an informal bill of rights for patients who are hospitalized, which informs patients that they have the right to refuse any procedure or medication that is prescribed, and that states that full information should be provided by the attending physician if the patient has expressed doubts or concerns.

Persons United Limiting Substandards and Errors in Health Care (PULSE), a non-profit organization concerned with patient education and improving communication within the health care system, encourages the partnership of health care professionals and patients. A patient who is educated about his or her own medical condition can work together with health care providers regarding treatment decisions.

New federal privacy rules, beyond the proposed patient bill of rights, give patients additional control over private medical information. Patients have the right to examine their own medical records and to amend them if necessary. In practice, medical personnel have often been reluctant to part with patient records, even when requested by the patients themselves. While health care providers and patients assume that medical records are private, the widespread use of computer transmissions opens the potential for seriously compromising patient confidentiality . Regulations recently imposed by the federal government are aimed at protecting patient records by creating limits on the methods in which medical information is shared. Direct authorization from a patient must be gained before information may be released. Criminal and civil penalties may be imposed for a privacy violation. Intentional disclosure of private information can bring a $50,000 fine and a one-year prison term. Penalties for selling medical information are higher. These rules became enforceable in February 2003.


Not all individuals or organizations agree with the new regulations. Some complain that they are too restrictive, while others maintain that they are not restrictive enough. The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) cites complexity and cost factors as major problems, and that the full extent of the impact caused by the ruling was not adequately considered when it passed in 2003. Government estimates are that it will cost taxpayers $17.6 billion over 10 years to comply with the privacy regulations. Critics of the regulations imply that the cost will be more than triple the estimate, and that billable hours for attorneys specializing in the complexities of the regulations will skyrocket, thus resulting in even higher costs of patient care.

See also Do not resuscitate order ; Medical charts ; Patient confidentiality .



Radford, Roger. Informed Consent. , 2002.


Cole, A., and K. Oxtoby. "Patient Power." Nursing Times 98, no.51 (2002): 22–25.

Landrum, S. E. "Patients' Rights and Responsibilities." Journal of the Arkansas Medical Society 99, no.7 (2003): 222–223.

Rosenbaum, S. "Managed Care and Patients' Rights." Journal of the American Medical Association 289, no.7 (2003): 906–907.

Sugarman, J. "Missing the Informed in Consent." Anesthesia and Analgesia 96, no.2 (2003): 319–320.


American Academy of Family Physicians. 11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway, Leawood, KS 66211-2672. (913) 906-6000. E-mail: .

American College of Physicians. 190 N Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA 19106-1572. (800) 523-1546, x2600, or (215) 351-2600. .

American Medical Association. 515 N. State Street, Chicago, IL 60610. (312) 464-5000. .

National Patient Advocate Foundation. 753 Thimble Shoals Blvd, Suite A, Newport News, VA 23606. 800-532-5274. E-mail: .


American Psychological Association. [cited March 2, 2003] .

Persons United Limiting Substandards and Errors in Health Care (P.U.L.S.E.). [cited March 2, 2003] http://// .

Stanford University. [cited March 2, 2003] .

U.S. House or Representatives, Democratic Staff or the Energy and Commerce Committee. [cited March 2, 2003. .

L. Fleming Fallon, Jr, MD, DrPH

User Contributions:

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Aug 28, 2010 @ 2:14 pm
how do you get a dr to trear you in a small town, where thry will refuse treatment if they just dont like you, or you stand up to them for your own care. they say things like we arre set up for the conveince of the clinic..[not the opssibiliteis of the patinet.] gave no reason for refusing care..i was told i could have two kinds of cancer, given tests, then dropped as a patient. says theyll see me in an" emergaency"i think possible 2 kinds of cancer, and no care, is an emergancy! did not do anything outrageous. dont understand. what are my rights?
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Aug 30, 2010 @ 3:15 pm
In detail can you describe when, if ever, should you disclose a patient's medical condition to a family member?
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Oct 6, 2010 @ 5:17 pm
I have been receiving e-mails from a Physcians office that are notifications of fax or phone changes or appointments that need to be changed and it is CC to all of the patients. I do not feel comfortable with every patient seeing my name on these e-mails. Is this a privacy act violation?
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Dec 10, 2011 @ 4:16 pm
A serious medical proiblem resulting in premature death that no one addresses is the deliberate withholding of costly care by certain HMOs and HMO for-profit physicians under the capitated compensation plan when a HMO member develops a costly and long-lasting illness, such as kidney cancer.

I've investigated corruption in high places for over 40 years, and now find that I zm uncovering corruption, deception, lies, associated with denial of universally recognized post-nephrectomy cancer care at Kaiser Permanente HMO in Walnut Creek, California. I'm in another one-man battle that will probably end in my death, while regulators, as usual, do nothing.
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May 17, 2014 @ 9:21 pm
Can a doctor STOP your pain medication (Morphine) that you have been taking for MONTHS (15mg/8tablets/day) and let you go into withdrawals because they NOW say it may be dangerous somehow? Yet NOTHING has changed for the many MONTHS you have been taking them??? Every few months she comes up with some EXCUSE to reduce change my pain medications then I end up back on what I was in the first place.
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Jul 31, 2015 @ 11:11 am
I have been prescribed Xanax for anxiety and panic attacks for over 20 years. Now my current doctor (changed not my choice) has informed me that I don't need it (I have seen him a total of 3 times only) and it is getting almost impossible to get the prescription from him. I do not take any more than I have for years, an a older female (over 65), do not take meds I don't need. They have tried other meds, ones for depression which is not what I need. They do not work! What avenues do we have as far as patients rights to not be discriminated against for needing and taking this medication? I'm getting really tired of being treated like a junkie! I do their drug screens when told to, they will not find any problems. I am fulfilling my obligation. Any answers?

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