Your Responsibilities as a Patient

In a discussion of patients' rights, it's also important to review patients' responsibilities. Just as we have rights as American citizens (the right to vote, for example), we have corresponding responsibilities that help maintain those rights (the responsibility of going to the polls to vote.) The same is true for our medical care.

Doctor discussing with patient

Portra Images / Taxi / Getty Images

Maintaining Healthy Habits

That proverbial ounce of prevention is most definitely more effective and efficient than the corresponding pound of cure. Making healthy food choices, getting plenty of exercise, resolving stress, getting enough sleep, moderating alcohol consumption, and refraining from smoking are those good habits we are all familiar with—and most of us need to work on.

Being Respectful to Providers

Just as it's a patient's right to expect respect, it is the patient's responsibility to show respect in return. This is not to suggest that patients need to be so respectful that they are afraid to ask questions or request clarification on issues regarding their health. Rather, it's a recognition that commanding respect means giving it in return—on both sides of the patient/provider equation.

Being Honest With Providers

As an empowered patient, you recognize that being totally honest with your practitioner is imperative. This means sharing all information about your habits and health, as holding back can mean not getting the care that you need.

Complying With Treatment Plans

Since you and your healthcare provider will have worked together to agree on a treatment plan, it only makes sense to comply with that plan. Not doing so works against the good care you've put effort into securing.

Preparing for Emergencies

For those who have medical challenges and/or take prescription drugs to maintain their health, it is important to be prepared for medical emergencies. If you find yourself in an emergency room, you'll want to be sure hospital personnel knows about the treatments you are already receiving or the cautions needed for effective treatment.

Reading Behind the Headlines

We see news every day about some new study that changes the way we see certain diseases or conditions. Sometimes the headlines don't tell the whole story. As an empowered patient, you know to look at those headlines to find out if they apply to you.

Making Decisions Responsibly

In the face of a frightening diagnosis, or a scary treatment option, it's difficult to leave our emotions out of our decisions. We need to make sure our decisions about our care are based on solid evidence and proven procedures, rather than wishful thinking.

Understanding Prescription Drugs and Their Possible Effects

There are so many possibilities for drug-related medical errors that we need to take responsibility for double-checking all prescriptions, then comparing them to the drug the pharmacist delivers to us. This is a safety question that all empowered patients must address.

Meeting Financial Obligations

Patients have the right to choose their insurance or other means of paying for their healthcare, and that right is balanced by the responsibility of taking care of those payments or corresponding financial obligations. There is no question that medical costs can become difficult and cumbersome, but they do need to be dealt with responsibly.

Reporting Fraud and Wrongdoing

We've all heard of medical payment fraud, whether it's through taking advantage of Medicare laws or billing for services not rendered through public or private medical payment assistance. These violations serve to line the pockets of those who don't deserve that extra money while forcing all citizens to pay out of their own pockets in the form of higher premiums, copays, coinsurance, or Medicare taxes. It is the responsibility of patients who become aware of such fraudulent activity to report it to those who can stop it.

Avoiding Putting Others at Risk

At one extreme, we see and hear news reports about a tuberculosis patient who travels the world, potentially infecting someone else or about a person with AIDS who passes on his disease intentionally.

At the other extreme, we send our kids to school, knowing they are running a mild fever or coughing and sneezing from an upper respiratory problem. Not to be forgotten is the dangerous workplace, or the highway bridge that is unsafe, or the playground built on a toxic waste dump.

In the United States, we have an obligation not to harm others either through intentional or unintentional means. It's our responsibility to act in such a way that we keep others from being infected or injured. In some cases, there are laws that speak to this responsibility, warranting an eventual arrest or a lawsuit. In others, it's simply common sense or even the golden rule. Of course, all these responsibilities help us maintain our rights as patients in the United States.

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.