For patients with spinal cord injury, the appropriate response to medical malpractice is unique, fact-specific, and as varied as the particular circumstances involved. One of the best ways to protect yourself from substandard care is to be proactive, to be an educated consumer, and to know and exercise your rights as a patient.
Generally, our rights as medical patients are defined by a variety of federal and state statutes and by the common law. While specific provisions differ state by state, typically most laws provide protection in a variety of areas.
Freedom of choice in the selection of a medical facility and a physician. This right, however, may be qualified in the case of emergencies when patients may be unable to make decisions about their treatment.
Informed consent as to all alternatives which are medically viable. In order to evaluate risks properly, the patient must be advised in a reasonable manner of all significant medical information that the physician possesses — or reasonably should possess — that is material to an intelligent decision whether to undergo a proposed procedure.
Prompt and adequate response. All reasonable requests must be answered within the medical facility's ability.
Right to obtain, upon request, basic information about the name and specialty of the physician or other person(s) responsible for coordinating the patient's care. Some laws also require physicians, students, and other employees of medical facilities to wear identification badges that display their photograph and disclose their name, license status, and staff position.
Receipt of any rules or regulations which apply to the patient's own conduct while he or she is being treated within a medical facility or institution.
Confidentiality of all medical records and communications to the extent provided by the law.
Privacy during care and treatment within any medical facility.
Access to, and inspection of, the patient's own medical records, upon request. The patient may be required to pay for any photocopying expenses for a personal copy of these records.
If such records are required in order to support a claim for Social Security benefits or another governmental needs-based program, however, the records should usually be copied free of charge.
Prompt life-saving treatment in an emergency without discrimination based upon economic status or otherwise.
Receipt, upon request, of any information regarding financial assistance and/or free healthcare options for patients.
Prompt and safe transfer to another medical facility, if the patient is refused non-emergency treatment because of economic status or an inability to pay for services.
Receipt, upon request, of an itemized invoice or statement of all medical-related charges submitted for payment to an insurance company or some other third-party.
An explanation, upon request, regarding any relationship or affiliation of the patient's healthcare facility to any other medical or educational institution.
Right to refuse to be examined, observed, or treated by medical students.
Right to refuse to serve as a research subject or to be examined or treated whenever the primary purpose of such care is educational or informational rather than therapeutic.
Patients may also have a right to refuse treatment based upon the creed or tenets of a church or religious denomination whose beliefs limit the form and quality of treatment to which they may submit.
Other laws may protect you as well depending upon your particular jurisdiction. Knowing and reasonably exercising these rights may be your best defense against possible oversight, neglect, or abuse.
They also allow you to achieve the maximum reassurance for yourself and your loved ones that you know as much as possible about your care and the people providing it.