Patient’s Rights – Where do they start and where to they end?

June 24, 2010 by  
Filed under For Healthcare Professionals


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What are our obligations to the patient? Keep in mind that autonomy only works with people who have the capacity to make their own decisions.

Here are some of the patients’ rights that come with using autonomy:
• Patients have the right to receive all the information they need to make a good decision.
• Patients have the right to make their own decisions.
• Patients have the right to refuse treatments they do not want.
• Patients do not have the right to demand treatments that will be medically ineffective or are medically inappropriate for their condition.

It is important to realize that there are limits to a patient’s rights. A patient is limited to asking only for treatments that will benefit her. This limitation makes sense. It would be pointless, and potentially harmful, to provide a treatment or medication that would not improve the patient’s condition. So, as a physician, you are able to say no to practicing bad medicine. If what the patient or decision maker is requesting would be inappropriate or non-beneficial you can say no and protect the patient. But if it is a medically valid option, even when you disagree with what the person wants because you think they are being foolish or it isn’t the best option to choose, we have to respect that it is the patient’s body and life.

I know this can be difficult as you watch people making foolish choices. But that is autonomy. All of us, including you, are allowed to make the decisions that make sense in the context of one’s own life. (Of course, there are different boundaries in pediatrics.)

One technique I use with patients is to say, “Here is the ideal plan. Now let’s talk about your plan.” That allows the two of you to partner together to build a plan, although it might not be ideal, it is something the patient is willing to consider and to try. And then perhaps in the future, the patient will be willing to consider the other options you would like him or her to try.

Have a kind and respectful day.

Autonomy and Patient’s Rights

June 24, 2010 by  
Filed under For Patients & Families


Autonomy means that a person makes his own decisions, so it only works with people who have the capacity to make their own decisions. If you have determined that your loved one still has capacity, then this is the correct decision making option. With Autonomy, the person gets to say what should be done to his body.

When I went to my doctor to talk about my injured back, my doctor told me what options were available to help me get better. He said I could try physical therapy, have a cortisone injection in my back, or just wait and see if it got better over time. Because I had the ability to think for myself and to make my own decisions, I was able to choose what I wanted to do. I got to think about the different options I was given and then make my own decision. I had Autonomy.

Here are some of the patients’ rights that come with using autonomy:
• Patients have the right to receive all the information they need to make a good decision.
• Patients have the right to make their own decisions.
• Patients have the right to refuse treatments they do not want.
• Patients do not have the right to demand treatments that will be medically ineffective or are medically inappropriate for their condition.

It is important to realize that there are limits to a patient’s rights. A patient is limited to asking only for treatments that will benefit her. This limitation makes sense. It would be pointless, and potentially harmful, to provide a treatment or medication that would not improve the patient’s condition.

Keep in mind that autonomy only works with people who have the capacity to make their own decisions. If you have determined that your loved one does not have decisional capacity, you will have to use different tools such as Substituted Judgment or the Best Interest Standard. (I will cover these two later this month.)

Have a kind and respectful day.