When you need medical care—whether it’s for a spine condition or otherwise—you’re in a vulnerable position. Your health is at risk, and you must rely on other people to fix what’s ailing you. In the flurry of signing forms and consuming a mountain of clinical information, you may feel like you have zero say during your hospital stay—but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Knowing your rights as a patient is the first step toward becoming your own best advocate.
#1. When something feels off, tell your doctor or nurse as it’s happening.
Let’s say you come out of low back surgery with numbness in your foot that wasn’t there before. Don’t wait to see if it goes away after you go home. Talk to your doctor or nurse when you’re in the hospital. Your clinical team may be highly qualified, but no amount of education or training gives them insight into what you’re feeling. They need to know if you are in pain, feeling new symptoms, or if their care just isn’t rubbing you the right way. It’s your right and responsibility to tell your care team when things aren’t sitting well with you.
#2. Speaking up will not put your care at risk.
Many people feel as if they are overstepping their bounds, or simply being impolite, by questioning the recommendations or performance of their doctor. Every medical professional you meet has one role: to promote your health. So, don’t worry that asking questions or expressing concern could result in substandard care. That wouldn’t just put your health at risk—it would put their careers at risk. But, if you feel your medical team isn’t listening to you, you have a right to other resources to ensure your voice is heard.
#3. You have a patient advocate.
If you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable during your hospital or outpatient spine center stay, seek out a patient advocate. Patient advocates listen to your experience and share advice on how you should move forward. Patient advocates are a bridge between you and your medical team, and they ensure your needs are acknowledged and help resolve your complaints. Patient advocates are employed by hospitals at no cost to you, so ask your nurse about your right to a patient advocate if you need help navigating your health care experience or feel like your medical team isn’t understanding your concerns.
#4. A Poor Experience Can Bring Positive Change.
All hospitals have ongoing goals of improving patient care. Your patient advocate is the best resource to help get your specific case resolved, but you can go a step further to help prevent similar situations by sharing your experience with the facility’s customer service and patient safety/quality care departments. These departments will document your situation and use it to help improve care. If a hospital employee gives you the impression that you don’t need to contact additional departments about your case, remind them it’s your right to reach out to all the outlets available to you.
You are not at the mercy of the health care facility and its employees when you receive care. Doctors, nurses, and technicians have education, training, and licensure to qualify their health care experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions about your care or speak up when something doesn’t feel right. When you check in for a procedure, you should receive a patients’ rights policy manual; if you don’t, ask for one. If you’d like to learn more about your rights as a patient, read our articles on informed consent and your rights to a second opinion.