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You And Your Doctor: Rights and Responsibilities

As part of a growing health and cost conscious public, we now take more responsibility for our health. More concerned about what we eat, drink and how we exercise, we also bring a questioning approach to health care. We are now forging new relationships with our doctors and we are less likely to sit passively and accept unquestioningly our doctor’s directions. We want second opinions, alternative treatments or medications.
As a person with SCI, you know you will spend more time with doctors and other health care professionals than most people. It is a good idea to know your rights and responsibilities as a patient as well as your doctors rights and responsibilities.

What Are Your Rights?
As one who knows your body, your aches and pains, your specific needs related to your injury, you have the right to two-way communication with your doctor about your long-term care concerns. You have the right to whatever information you need about your injury and possible complications arising from the injury.

Kievman, in her book, For Better or For Worse, suggests that you also have other rights, such as:

  • having adequate access to your doctor
  • participating in major decisions related to your care
  • changing doctors if your best interests are not being served
  • knowing whom to contact if your doctor is unavailable
  • having your records handled confidentially
  • knowing what you will be charged for, and how much those charges will be
  • being seen within a reasonable time of your scheduled appointment
  • asking for a second opinion

Never be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question as far as
your health is concerned. You have a right to know and understand. You have a right to express your concerns, doubts and fears, and to be heard.

What Are Your Responsibilities:
In addition to your rights, YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES TO YOUR DOCTOR. You need to tell him your medical history, what other doctors you may be seeing, what medications you use or have used, and what is your alcohol or drug history. If you have a right to the best treatment available, then you have the responsibility to share with your doctor information that will help him or her diagnose, medicate or treat your particular problems. If you keep things from your doctor, then the treatment you receive may be ineffective or dangerous.

It is also your responsibility to tell your doctor everything you know about your injury,
its possible long-term effects, and complications.

Additional Responsibilities:
In addition, you are responsible for:

  • telling your physician about your symptoms
  • understanding in detail what is wrong with you and what treatment is available and planned for you
  • following your doctor’s directions, reporting symptoms or complications or making sure your doctor knows why you cannot do so
  • keeping scheduled appointments, paying bills on time, and limiting other calls unless they are vital to your well being

Your Doctor Has Rights, too…
Among your doctor's rights are:

  • to know about your life-style, particularly if it has an impact on your SCI or complications from the injury, or proposed treatment
  • to withdraw from treating you if he or she feels that there is an ethical or personal conflict with you
  • to privacy

…and Responsibilities
While this seems obvious, physicians are accountable for:

  • thoroughly discussing with you diagnoses, tests, and treatments in a nontechnical way
  • recommending reasonable alternative treatments or medications
  • notifying you of non-office hour coverage, keeping good patient records, and informing you of services not covered by insurance
  • recognizing when his or her knowledge is limited and asking for a second opinion
  • developing a partnership with you in your quest for wellness

As you age with your spinal cord injury, you need people to work with you to keep you healthy and to improve your quality of life. Your doctor is the key to your health. As part of your team, your physician wants you to understand the rights and responsibilities you both have.

Remember: your doctor is working for you!

Resources:
Building a New Dream: A Family Guide to Coping with Chronic Illness by Janet Maurer.
Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1989.

For Better or For Worse: A Couples Guide to Dealing with Chronic Illness by Beverly Kievman, with Susie Blackmun. Chicago: Contemporary Books,1989.

This is one of more than 20 educational brochures developed by Craig Hospital while it was a federally-funded Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Aging with Spinal Cord Injury. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the funding agency, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the US Department of Education.

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