patient rights

In 2017, 85% of adults visited their physician at least one time. That’s over 883 million visits to healthcare facilities. 

With those numbers, it’s almost impossible to believe that patients receive individualized, respectful care. Americans are more involved with their healthcare than ever before, and patient rights are a hot topic.

People are more concerned about what they eat and how much they exercise. They’ve also begun to approach healthcare in a more questioning way.

Patients are taking more responsibility for their health, and it’s important to recognize the rights awarded to them.

When treated by a health professional, all patients have rights that are granted and enforced by law. Other rights are derived from the ethical practice of medicine and fundamental human rights.

All medical staff should serve as advocates for patients and encourage basic patient rights.

Keep reading for an overview of patient rights, and how medical staff plays a role in supporting them.

Patient Rights Explained

The basic rule of conduct between patients and medical caregivers is called patient rights. This rule also applies to medical institutions and the individuals that support them.

A patient is anyone who is being evaluated by a healthcare professional. Medical caregivers include hospitals, medical staff and personnel, insurance agencies, and any payers of medical-related costs.

A more legal definition: patient rights cover the right to care, patient dignity, confidentiality, and consent to treatment. 

More often than not, patient rights are not clearly defined at the time of treatment. Patient rights can be extensive and apply to many people and institutions, not just a patient and their provider. They exist between hospitals, laboratories, insurers, and medical staff members that provide housekeeping and secretarial help.

How Medical Staff Support Patient Rights

All healthcare professionals must act as advocates for their patients and support their rights. 

The main patient rights are the right to healthcare, communication, confidentiality, right to refuse, and abandonment. 

Right to Healthcare

Most people believe that patients have the right to the best treatment available. This has been at the center of America’s healthcare debate for years. 

While inequities still exist, a patchwork of healthcare programs and insurance options exists to provide patients with more equal care. 

Laws such as the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) mandate an evaluation of patients who seek medical attention at emergency departments.

Along with the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), hospitals must perform an appropriate screening to determine whether an emergency situation exists.

If an emergency condition is present, they must provide treatment to stabilize the patient and arrange a transfer or referral if necessary. This treatment must be provided to the best of the providers’ abilities.

If the emergency department refuses care, the facility and healthcare providers are held liable.


Patients have the right to two-way communication with their doctor regarding their health. The patient and the doctor should be a two-person team. Providers must give patients all of the information required to make healthcare-related decisions.

A patient should know the ins and out of their injury or condition, and how it relates to their overall health. Speaking with a healthcare professional can be intimidating, so it is the medical staff’s job to encourage communication.

Doctors must provide patients with the ability to ask questions — as many as they need to in order to understand. Patients are encouraged to write down questions beforehand and take notes during the visit. It is the doctor’s role to provide the time and patience this process requires.


When patients reach out to their doctors, they are expecting their information to remain confidential. 

Medical professionals have the right to ask intimate questions regarding lifestyle in order to treat their patients. They will communicate with patient insurance and managed care provider(s). To do this, they must maintain the utmost confidentiality. 

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) protects the privacy of patient health information. It ensures that doctors and health care facilities do not share health information without patient permission.

HIPPA also provides patients with the right to access their healthcare records whenever requested.

Right to Refuse Healthcare

Patients also have the right to refuse any recommended treatments they are uncomfortable with. 

As long as the patient is considered of sound mind, it is their responsibility to make the choice that feels right to them. This is only true after the patient has been provided with any and all information related to their health and treatment options.

There are exceptions to this rule. If a patient is injured and receiving income from worker’s compensation, they may not be able to refuse treatment. Especially if they are relying on the worker’s compensation to support them. This is also the case for individuals who receive social security disability. 

If a patient has chosen private disability insurance, they may not have the right to refuse treatment. This is settled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the insurer.


Sometimes the relationship between medical personnel and patient is not a productive one. 

Doctors are allowed to choose which patients they treat, but they cannot withdraw care without an appropriate referral. 

Referrals are a common practice. In fact, one out of every three patients is referred to a specialist each year. If a doctor simply refuses to treat a patient or complete a transfer, that is considered abandonment.

Other situations that constitute abandonment include:

  • a facility with inadequate staffing
  • failure to follow-up when a patient misses an appointment
  • failure to communicate urgent information from the provider to the patient or
  • medical staff knowingly schedules a patient’s appointment too far in the future, worsening the patient’s condition

Putting Patients First

Patient rights continue to evolve over time, but they will always play an important role in the doctor-patient relationship.

When patients come first, it’s vital that medical staff and individuals have the supplies to provide the best possible healthcare experience. It’s also important that patients are able to continue their care plans at home.

We believe that medical supplies are more than just products — they are life-enhancing. To get started, browse our extensive collection of medical products selected to meet your medical needs.