The Importance of Knowing Your Rights as a Patient


When I first began seeking medical help for variety of issues, I began to experience doctors who were very dismissive of me (citing everything from age to weight to existing health issues), would not refer me for evaluation with specialists, refused to order x-rays or ultrasounds to investigate the possible root of my symptoms or prescribed drugs to me without explanation. This frustrating doctor-patient relationship started in my early 20s, and because neither myself nor my parents had any prior realm of knowledge to draw from, I was in the dark about the rights I had as a patient, what types of treatment or dialogue should not be accepted and where I could go to file a complaint against my doctor or their staff.

When you are a generally healthy person who may experience a bout of the flu, stomach virus, sinus infection, urinary tract infection or some other easily curable condition, you are more than likely not going to see your primary care doctor on a regular basis. However, those who have chronic health conditions that require regular and emergency visits, frequent monitoring, periodical reassessments, lab work or testing, you become the patient who your doctor and their staff know by face, voice and name because of their regular interaction with you year-round.

Chronic conditions – especially ones that include pain – can become problematic to deal with, especially from the doctor and their staff’s perspective because it is quite difficult to prove how much pain someone is truly in. Also, most people who have a chronic ailment where pain is involved often become isolated and even depressed because of how their quality of life changes and how hard it is for people to accept an invisible illness. There are even patients who try to abuse or manipulate their doctor and their staff to get prescribed pain medications, dosage changes, etc., which can be indicative of a drug dependency or addiction which is very dangerous and does often occur.

If you do not believe that you fall into the above-mentioned categories and think you are being discriminated against, mistreated or not properly diagnosed, you do have rights as a patient. To file a complaint against your doctor’s staff, you would want to verbally speak with the office manager and follow up in writing by stating the date, time and name of the person you spoke with and what the conversation was about. Then thank them for their time and attention to the matter and carbon copy the actual doctor or physician’s assistant who you are the patient of. If your complaint is about the actual doctor and not their staff, you would want to put your complaint in writing and send via mail or email to your state licensing board. You may even be able to speak with someone over the phone before doing so to see what types of complaints they would consider for investigation.

Nowadays there are websites that allow patients and former patients of a medical practice to rate or grade their experience with their doctor and their staff. You can do other possible future patients a favor by sharing of your experience via an online review. Here is a link to help you get started sharing your patient experience online.

You have the right to fair, equal and unbiased treatment as a patient. You do not have to accept mistreatment because you are fearful of retaliation from your doctor or their staff because you have decided to speak up for yourself and take the appropriate actions to see that an issue of mistreatment is appropriately investigated and stops. To learn more about formal complaints that you can file, visit the American Medical Association’s website.

I encourage you to become an empowered patient who seeks to educate yourself about new information and research in regards to your condition and who strives to ensure that you are being fairly treated as a patient. You deserve to be the best you possible and that includes receiving access to the best medical treatment possible.

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