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Understanding your rights

Know your rights and stand up for them.

As you navigate the healthcare system, it’s important to remember that you have legal rights that protect your privacy and access to your medical records. You also have the right to expect respectful and considerate treatment from your doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers. If you feel that your legal or personal rights are not being respected but are uncomfortable raising objections on your own, it’s a good idea to enlist the help of a family member or friend to advocate on your behalf. There’s no reason to allow the situation to continue.

In 1973, the American Hospital Association (AHA) drafted a bill of rights outlining what people being treated for all illnesses should expect to receive from their hospitals, doctors, and nurses. The AHA encourages hospitals and healthcare organizations across the country to comply with the bill of rights, and in many states patients’ rights are legally binding. According to the Patient’s Bill of Rights, you are entitled to:

  • Receive care that is respectful and considerate.
  • Be given complete, accurate information in straightforward language about your diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment plan.
  • Make decisions about your treatment, and refuse treatment.
  • Expect privacy and confidentiality about your diagnosis and treatment.
  • Review and keep a copy of your medical records, and have them explained to you.
  • Have access to resources for resolving grievances, disputes, and conflicts.
  • Be informed of and understand your rights as a patient at the facility.

Expect the best

When choosing among treatment facilities, make sure to investigate how their official policies measure up against your treatment philosophy and priorities, as well as the Patient’s Bill of Rights. You’ll also want to research their reputations for relationships with the people in their care, including testimonials from former patients if available, to make sure their policies are carried out in practice.

Most hospitals provide a version of their policies in straightforward language. Federal law requires that any hospital accepting Medicare reimbursement inform you about your legal rights.

But medical facilities should go even further to protect your interests and make you feel comfortable. How they answer your questions and the attitude of the staff as a whole can often tell you a lot about how you’ll be treated in their care. Some facilities provide patient relations departments, patient advocates, or ombudsmen, to help ensure there’s a way to make your concerns known.

If not, you can discuss the problem with your doctor, or with the hospital administrator if the problem isn’t resolved. If the situation doesn’t improve, you may want to consider seeking treatment at a facility that shares your treatment philosophy and is committed to protecting your rights.

Protecting your privacy

You entrust detailed personal and medical information to your healthcare providers during cancer treatment, so it’s important to know that it will remain confidential. Your right to privacy in the field of healthcare is protected by a set of federal regulations issued under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

HIPAA regulates the way healthcare providers, like doctors, pharmacies, and insurance companies, are able to share your Protected Health Information, such as your medical condition as well as your name, address, and Social Security number. For example, your primary care physician can provide another doctor with any medical records or personal information in order to give you better care, or to help you in an emergency medical situation.

For operations, treatment billing, and insurance purposes, however, providers are allowed to give only the minimum amount of necessary information. And in order to share any data with an outside business, like a life insurance company, a provider must have your written consent.

To make sure you know about the practices they follow, healthcare providers must give you a notification of privacy practices, explaining exactly how your medical information will be used. HIPAA also allows you the right to access your own medical records, and to request corrections of any errors you find.