Do you know that you have rights as a patient?

By Penelope A. Domogo, MD


“ Tell us your doubts, your fears. If the doctor didn’t tell you something that you think you need to know, go ahead and ask. ”
“ The right attitude, proper diet and enough exercise – that’s a healthy lifestyle.”
“ I wrote the above in October 2009 after typhoon Pepeng caused a massive landslide in Kayan East, Tadian, claiming 40 lives, causing so much trauma and damaging so much property. ”

Generally, Filipino patients, at this point in history, are passive recipients of health services. They rely totally on their health service provider, usually the doctor, to give them everything they need to get well, including information. I guess this is in the belief that it is the doctor or any health care provider that will make them well. Which is an erroneous belief. The usual scenario is like this. A sick person musters enough courage to go to the doctor for check-up. The doctor asks a few questions then prescribes medicines and sends the patient home with instructions, for example, to take one of the medicines every eight hours for 7 days and the other medicine once a day. After 7 days, or if the patient is not getting well, come back. So the patient goes home and suddenly asks himself “Will I take the medicine before or after meals?”, “Will I take the medicine even if I feel okay na?”, “Can I take the medicines together?”, etc. Questions they should have asked their doctor in the first place, because it is their right to be informed.
All patients have rights which are recognized worldwide, as follows:
1. The right to considerate and respectful care.
So kung masungit ang nag-asikaso sa iyo, please tell her or him “Ma’am, huwag mo akong pagalitan” and inform the supervisor or management. This right is not only for health services. It applies to all government services. Thus in government offices, we have customer satisfaction form for any customer or client to fill up. Demand for this form and write your feedback. We need your feedback to improve our services. Thus you might have noticed that government workers, especially in national line agencies, are much friendlier now than in the past. I personally experienced this and I am happy. For those working in sick care, we always remind our staff that clients who come to us are sick and we, service providers, are well so we should be the ones to adjust to our clients. If we health workers don’t feel well, then we should take a leave from work and recharge.
2. The right to obtain from his/her physician complete and current information concerning his/her diagnosis, treatment and prognosis in terms the patient can be reasonably expected to understand.
I get text messages from patients who consulted other doctors then ask me questions that they should have asked their other doctor, like those questions I mentioned earlier. Sometimes, though, they just want a second opinion. So how does the patient claim this “right to obtain from his/her physician complete and current information…” You, as the patient or companion of the patient, have to ask questions. Patients have the right to ask questions from as many doctors as they want. You can consult internet, just as any person can get information from internet. Engage your doctor in deeper conversation. Health authorities recommend at least 15 minutes consultation time with a doctor.
3. The right to receive from his/her physician information necessary to give informed consent prior to the start of any procedure and/or treatment.
4. The right to refuse treatment and be informed of the medical consequences of his/her action.
5. The right to every consideration of his privacy concerning his own medical care program.
6. The right to expect that all communications and records pertaining to his/her care should be treated as confidential.
7. The right to expect the hospital to provide reasonable response within its capacity to requests of patient for service.
8. The right to obtain information as to any relationship his/her hospital has to other health care and educational institutions in so far as his/her care is concerned.
9. The right to be advised if the hospital proposes to engage in or perform human experimentation affecting his/her care or treatment.
10. The right to expect reasonable continuity of care.
11. The right to examine and receive an explanation of his/her bills.
12. The right to know what hospital rules and regulations apply to his/her conduct as a patient.
There you are, patients have a lot of rights. Furthermore, if you are Igorot or any other indigenous person, then you have the right to your indigenous beliefs, values and practices. Assert those rights.
We, doctors, are not mind-readers so if you want us to help you better please tell us as much information as you can about your yourself, your life or about why you are consulting us. Tell us your doubts, your fears. If the doctor didn’t tell you something that you think you need to know, go ahead and ask. Sometimes, you also forgot to ask so I suggest that before going to the clinic, hospital, doctor or laboratory, write down all your questions and concerns.
Many times, patients are afraid to ask questions because they think that we, doctors, will get angry, which, sadly, is sometimes true. Like they are afraid to ask “What is this medicine for?”. But you should ask so that you are sure you and your doctor understand each other. Especially if you are prescribed a lot of medicines. If you don’t have enough money, ask your doctor which are really necessary so that is what you will buy. Because if you didn’t ask, you might end up buying what is not necessary. I tell you a true story. There was a child who had pneumonia and was prescribed 3 medicines to be taken at home- an antibiotic, a cough syrup and another medicine for the fever. Because the family was poor, they didn’t have enough money to buy all 3 medicines. And because the parent did not ask which medicine was the most important, they ended up buying the cough syrup and anti-fever medicine because they were cheaper. They left out the most important medicine, the antibiotic. So the condition of the child got worse and had to be hospitalized. They ended up spending more for the hospitalization, they lost more work hours because they had to stay with the child in the hospital and they were stressed. What more, there was more suffering for the child.
Life would be a lot easier and happier if patients and doctors communicate well. Information is such a power tool. But information is nothing if it is just on this paper or in our minds. Information, to be useful, has to be translated into action. So these rights are nothing if they just stay in this paper. People need to claim them. As we, doctors, improve on our communications skills, so also patients need to ask questions and take more responsibility for their health.***
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7

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