Patient's Bill of Rights: Be Empowered Before Next Doctor Visit

Being your own health advocate will strengthen relationship with physician.

July 14, 2011 — -- Do you dread going to the doctor? Are you left waiting to be seen for hours? Are you afraid to question your physician's diagnosis or suggested treatment?

I want you to know that patients have rights when they are receiving care and that if those rights are violated, another doctor should be found.

Nine Questions You Need to Ask Your Doctor for Good Care

Below, I've shared my advice on becoming a better health advocate for your body and strengthening your relationship with your doctor. Before your next doctor's appointment, print this out and bring it with you.

The Right for Your Doctor to Be on Time

The first right is for your doctor to be on time. We all know that there are emergencies that can make a doctor late but that should be the exception. Lateness should be explained, and you should receive an apology. It's just common courtesy. It's unacceptable to be kept waiting for more than 15 or 20 minutes. If this happens to you on a regular basis, let the office know you'll be looking for a new doctor. They'll get the message.

The Right to See Your Doctor Wash Hands

We talk about it all the time. Hand washing is so important. When I'm going in to see a patient, there are so many things on my mind. Before a doctor or nurse touches you, you have the right to see them wash their hands. It's about your health and your body. And I know it's hard to do, but if you didn't see them wash their hands, ask them. Say "I'm really concerned about germs, could you wash your hands?"

The Right to a Second Opinion

When you have a serious medical problem, you have a right to a second opinion to confirm your doctor's evaluation. There are a lot of differences of opinion in medicine. As a doctor, when someone asks me for a second opinion, I see it as an opportunity to gain that patient's trust. If I respond openly, it strengthens our relationship. It tells me they really want to manage their own health. That's a good thing.

Here's a way to do it that won't put your doctor on edge and will empower you.

Doctor: You need back surgery.

Patient: I hear what you're saying but I'd be more comfortable with a second opinion.

Doctor: Absolutely. Is there someone you'd like to see or would you like some recommendations?

The Right to Understand What the Doctor Says and the Right to Have It Written Down

Many times doctors use language that is confusing and technical. You have the right to be spoken to in plain language that you understand. Hearing a new diagnosis can be mind-numbing. You have a right to have the information written down so that you can review it later. You have a right to ask as many questions as you need to so that you understand your diagnosis and treatment.

The Right to Say 'No'

The bottom line is that when you are at a doctor's appointment, the focus is your body. You have the right to say no to any tests or treatment that are recommended. This can be difficult because the doctor is the expert on the disease and medicine. But remember, you are the expert on your body. If you need time to think about a way forward or what has been said, make a follow-up appointment before proceeding.

I remember going to the doctor last year and disagreeing with him about a test he wanted to order. It was very hard for me to tell him "no" but I am so glad that I did.

Here's a tip on how to do it: "Doctor, I'd rather not go ahead with that today. I'd like some time to think about it." That can take some pressure off the situation.

The Right to Know What It Costs

How many times are you surprised by the bill you receive from a doctor's visit.? You have the right to know what the visit and tests will cost before you incur the costs. Ask the receptionist for that information when you schedule your appointment. That may give you some time to check with your insurance company to see what is covered and how much you will need to pay. Then when you see your doctor you can decide together how to proceed.

The Right to Be Spoken to While Clothed

It's hard enough to talk about your most personal matters to another person. It becomes nearly impossible when one of you is wearing a flimsy gown. You have the right to sit down and talk to your doctor about your health across a desk or in an exam room with you both seated, fully clothed.

If your "rights" are being violated, first try to talk to your doctor about it. Hopefully, they will appreciate the feedback. If they don't, think about getting another doctor.

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