Patient Rights in the American Healthcare System

What rights do American patients have as they navigate through the American healthcare system? You have rights that are granted and enforced by law, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). You also have rights that stem from the ethical practice of medicine and basic human rights.

A doctor and a pregnant patient talking
Hero Images / Getty Images

Your Legal Rights as a Patient in the American Healthcare System

Let's take a look at your rights.

The Right to Be Treated with Respect

All patients, regardless of their means or health challenges, should expect to be treated respectfully and without discrimination by their providers, practitioners, and payers.

The Right to Obtain Your Medical Records

The HIPAA Act of 1996 provides patients in the United States a right to obtain their medical records, including doctors' notes, medical test results and other documentation related to their care.

The Right to Privacy of Your Medical Records

The HIPAA Act also outlines who else, besides you (the patient), may obtain your records, and for what purposes. Patients are often surprised about who has these rights. Access may be denied to people you might think would have access. Improper access has consequences.

The Right to Make a Treatment Choice

As long as a patient is considered to be of sound mind, it is both his right and responsibility to know about the options available for treatment of his medical condition and then make the choice he feels is right for him. This right is closely associated with the Right to Informed Consent.

The Right to Informed Consent

No reputable practitioner or facility that performs tests, procedures or treatments will do so without asking the patient or his guardian to sign a form giving consent. This document is called "informed consent" because the practitioner is expected to provide clear explanations of the risks and benefits prior to the patient's participation, although that does not always happen as thoroughly as it should.

The Right to Refuse Treatment

In most cases, a patient may refuse treatment as long as he is considered to be capable of making sound decisions, or he made that choice when he was of sound mind through written expression (as is often the case when it comes to end-of-life care).

There are some exceptions, meaning that some patients may not refuse treatment. Those exceptions tend to occur when others are subsidizing the patient's income during the period of injury, sickness, and inability to work.

The Right to Make Decisions About End-of-Life Care

Each state in the United States governs how patients may make and legally record the decisions they make about how their lives will end, including life-preserving measures such as the use of feeding tubes or ventilators.

Corresponding to these patients' rights are a number of patients' responsibilities. There are also some rights Americans think they have as patients, that are missing. It's important that you are aware of all of these so that you can be sure to take steps to ensure the care you need, want and deserve.

If you believe your patients' rights have been violated, you can discuss it with a hospital patient advocate or your state's department of health. Stand up and exercise your patient rights.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Individuals’ Right under HIPAA to Access their Health Information 45 CFR § 164.524.

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.