By Erin Vallely, ATI Advocacy Specialist
October 26, 2023
The third Thursday of every November is National Rural Health Day, where we recognize the people dedicated to addressing the healthcare needs of rural America. While we have many wonderful local healthcare providers here in Upstate NY, it's still very important for people to understand their legal rights as patients. Sometimes healthcare staff struggle to provide appropriate and equal care due to lack of experience, and we have to advocate for ourselves to get better care. For many people with underlying conditions and disabilities, this knowledge is especially important to have.
Laws Protecting Patients in Healthcare Settings
The rights discussed in this article are protected by several laws. For example, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 banned discrimination against disabled people in organizations that received federal funding. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects disabled and chronically ill individuals from discrimination in nearly all areas of society, which includes healthcare. Lastly, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for any health care provider that receives funding from the federal government to refuse to treat or discriminate against them based on race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. All of these laws protect disabled and chronically ill people’s right to accessible, high quality healthcare services.
Basic Rights All Patients Have
Although this list does not list every right you have as a patient, they are some of the most important to know and understand. Here are some things everyone should know before seeking care from a provider in any setting.
Reasonable Accommodations: Disabled and chronically ill patients have the right to any reasonable accommodation they need to have equal access to healthcare services. For example, someone who is deaf has the right to have a sign language interpreter present during all interactions with providers. Similarly, someone who is visually impaired has the right to have paperwork in larger print or read to them. Those with writing disabilities might need help doing paperwork.
Anti-Discrimination: Everyone has the right to receive the care you need regardless of your race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or payment method. This means every provider has to take good care of you no matter who you are. They have to offer all possible treatments, respect your choices, answer your questions, and treat you with respect.
Filing Complaints: You have the right to file a complaint against a healthcare provider that you believe has provided incompetent, negligent, or fraudulent care to you. Filing a complaint should only be used when providers clearly aren’t respecting your rights or providing you with good care, not just if you don’t like what they are saying. It’s a good idea to talk to the provider, or a manager, before you file a complaint to see if you can fix the problem without a formal complaint.
Discharge Plan Review: You have the right to formally question decisions about your discharge plan, and request a case review if you feel you are not ready to be discharged. Sometimes healthcare providers assume we are doing better than we feel like we are and will try to send us home too early. It’s very important that you explain why you disagree with the plan. When you report complaints or concerns, the staff can’t retaliate or treat you badly because of it.
Designated Support People: You have the right to pick a caregiver who will be included in your discharge planning and receive copies of your post-discharge care information and instructions. This is helpful for people who need personal care help, or have trouble remembering what they must do to take care of themselves. Designating someone to help you after discharge can also reassure healthcare providers that it is safe for you to go home with the help you need.
Viewing Your Medical Record: You have the right to see and read your medical record for free and, obtain a copy of your medical record for a reasonable amount of money. Being able to see your medical record is very important because you can see exactly what your providers have said about you. Your medical record will list your diagnoses, your medications, allergies you have, and notes from visits with your provider. You will want to correct mistakes if you see any.
Although laws and regulations govern how healthcare services should be provided, you must be prepared to advocate for yourself. It is ultimately your responsibility to ensure you are getting the care you need and deserve.
Advocating for yourself in a medical setting or working with disabled patients can be challenging, but it’s very important everyone learn what to do to ensure good care is provided. Here are some resources you can use for more information on some of these rights. Knowing your rights before you need to use them is very important.
- Read about your other rights as a patient by going to https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/1515/
- Watch this video to learn self-advocacy in healthcare strategies from a doctor at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P84rPbS-zAE
- Patients and healthcare providers should take this training to learn about what quality care looks like https://www.health.ny.gov/community/disability/training/