February 21st, 2012
By Jennifer Olin, BSN, RN
There’s a big election coming up in about eight months and one of the many topics we are hearing about from both sides is the current state of healthcare in America. Back in June of 2010 President Obama announced his “Patient’s Bill of Rights” that was basically new regulations for insurers that covered annual and lifetime limits, pre-existing conditions, choice of doctor, and access to out-of-network emergency care. Now, I’m not saying this isn’t important, but when I think of a “Bill of Rights” I think of issues that are a little more personal.
The movement for patients’ rights in healthcare started in the late 1960s as a way to improve quality of healthcare and make the health care system more responsive to clients’ needs. Today’s patients seek self-determination and control over their own bodies when they are ill. Informed consent, confidentiality, and the right to refuse treatment are all part of self-determination and what most nurses and other healthcare providers think of when they define a patient’s “Bill of Rights.”
In 1973, the American Hospital Association (AHA) published A Patient’s Bill of Rights to promote the rights of hospitalized clients. They were revised in 1992. Since that time the only real change to these fundamentals has been the packaging. In 2001, AHA hospitals replaced "A Patient's Bill of Rights" with "The Patient Care Partnership: Understanding Expectations, Rights and Responsibilities." The messages are still the same.
Except in emergencies when the patient lacks decision-making capacity and the need for treatment is urgent, the patient is entitled to the opportunity to discuss and request information related to the specific procedures and/or treatments, the risks involved, the possible length of recuperation, and the medically reasonable alternatives and their accompanying risks and benefits.
Patients have the right to know the identity of physicians, nurses, and others involved in their care, as well as when those involved are students, residents, or other trainees. The patient also has the right to know the immediate and long-term financial implications of treatment choices, insofar as they are known.
In case of such refusal, the patient is entitled to other appropriate care and services that the hospital provides or transfer to another hospital. The hospital should notify patients of any policy that might affect patient choice within the institution.
The patient has the right to timely information about hospital policy that may limit its ability to implement fully a legally valid advance directive.
The patient has the right to expect that the hospital will emphasize the confidentiality of this information when it releases it to any other parties entitled to review information in these records.
The patient must also have the benefit of complete information and explanation concerning the need for, risks, benefits, and alternatives to such a transfer.
A patient who declines to participate in research or experimentation is entitled to the most effective care that the hospital can otherwise provide.
You will see these patients’ rights posted in most hospitals, most everywhere you look—in elevators, in bathrooms, on hallway bulletin boards and in cafeterias. The wording may be slightly different. The phrases may be shorter. The may be written in different languages. The intent is always the same. They are there so no one, not patients, not doctors, not nurses, ever forget what the patient deserves and how we as care providers must respect our patients’ rights.