Everything you need to know about the Patient's Bill of Rights
Editor’s note: When it works at its best, the U.S. health care system is a partnership—patients and doctors working together to achieve the best outcomes possible. But before this can happen, you need to know that you have the power to create the type of health care experience you’d like to have. Research shows that when you feel empowered in your medical care, you get better faster and stay well longer. Amino is dedicated to helping you feel empowered. That’s why we present this series of articles that focuses on your rights as a patient—both inside the hospital and out. First up, we explore the “Patient’s Bill of Rights” (yes, that’s a thing!).
If you’ve ever been hospitalized and felt that you were at the mercy of the medical staff, you’re not alone. But you’re wrong.
As a patient, you have right to expect certain things during your hospital stay and from your health care team. In fact, those rights are spelled out in something called the Patient’s Bill of Rights.
What is it?
For starters, it’s not one bill or single document, but a list of guarantees to every person who seeks treatment in a hospital or other health care facility. Typically, these guarantees are that you’ll be kept informed about your condition and treatment, treated fairly and have autonomy over medical decisions, among other things.
The Patient’s Bill of Rights sets the foundation for open, honest communication between you, your family members and your health care providers. And it explicitly encourages you to take an active role in making decisions about your treatment and care (more advice on how to do that here).
A brief history
“A Patient’s Bill of Rights” was the name of a document the American Hospital Association (AHA) introduced in the early 1970s. It was revised in 1992. It’s a list of 12 expectations you should have regarding information about your case, communication with your health care team, treatment, medical records and more.
The AHA encouraged each health care facility in the United States to adapt these 12 rights to fit the needs of their particular patient community. That’s why there’s not one single version of the Patient’s Bill of Rights, but many versions.
In 2003, in an effort to promote the idea that health care is a partnership between you and your provider, the AHA replaced its original Patient’s Bill of Rights with The Patient Care Partnership. This is simply a brochure (available in multiple languages) that tells you in plain, easy-to-understand terms what you can rightfully expect during your hospital stays.
- High-quality care
- A clean, safe environment
- That you’ll be involved in your care
- That your privacy will be protected
- Help when leaving the hospital
- Help with billing claims
You can ask for a copy of The Patient Care Partnership when you’re admitted to the hospital.
Extra protections against insurance companies
Perhaps the most sweeping changes to patients’ rights legislation happened in June 2010, when President Barack Obama announced regulations that protect you as a patient when dealing with insurance companies. Many of those protections took effect in September 2010, after the enactment of the Affordable Care Act. Others were phased in slowly and took effect in 2014.
Two of the most significant of protections deal with dependents and insurance coverage for preexisting conditions. New regulations allow you to get health insurance even if you have a medical condition you’ve been wrestling with for a long time.
Prior to the passage of this new Patient’s Bill of Rights, insurance companies could deny you coverage if you had a preexisting condition.
What’s more, the Patient’s Bill of Rights under the Affordable Care Act allows you to get some preventative health screenings, like annual physicals, without extra fees or co-pays. Read the document in its entirety here.
Lorrie Klemons, a North Carolina-based patient advocate, says these initiatives play a key role in helping patients feel more empowered about their care. “These new protections create an important foundation of patients’ rights in the private health insurance market that puts Americans in charge of their own health.”
In the next article in this series, we explore the topic of informed consent—a critical component of patient empowerment.
A version of this post was published on Forbes.