President Obama’s current administration has estimated that nearly 46 million people in the United States don’t have health insurance. That doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to healthcare. They do. And if you, or a loved one is without insurance and needs medical assistance then you need to know your options. Fortunately, there are ‘patient’s rights’ in healthcare.
Violation of Patient’s Rights
On one of our patient hotlines, I received a call from a distressed daughter. Her mother, who is in another state, had called her and told her she felt suicidal. She had gone to the hospital delusional and suicidal and was told by the admitting front desk clerk “she was not suicidal enough for admission”. I looked down at the phone incredulously and thought ‘how suicidal is suicidal enough’? “Furthermore”, the front desk clerk informed her mother, “if we admit you we will strip you, hose you down with cold water, and restrain you for 30 days. Is that what you really want to do?” Naturally, the patient left, even further distressed.
The daughter, who had no idea that her mother was even having issues, contacted her mother’s nurse practitioner who told her “your mom is crazy and I am getting a restraining order against her.” It appears that rather than getting a restraining order, her provider should have been getting her admitted for treatment.
But, what’s really the issue here? Is it merely a compassionate front desk clerk trying to save the woman the indignity of a cold shower? I don’t think so. Why are we not admitting ‘the crazy lady’? I asked the daughter one simple, revealing question – “Does your mother have health insurance?” The answer was no.
A Patient’s Right to Emergency Care
One of the patient rights is that all people living in the USA have a right to emergency care regardless of ability to pay. In 1986 Congress passed the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) addressing this issue. EMTALA ensures that no patient can be turned away for emergency treatment. The hospital is obligated to screen the patient, and if the situation is deemed an emergency, stabilize the patient. Hospitals have also put in place ‘Compliance Officers’ whose duties include ensuring all hospital policies and procedures are being met. In the above scenario, the daughter could have called the compliance officer, let them know what had occurred and request a patient advocate to review her case. Patients do have rights, and while our healthcare system isn’t perfect, treatment is available.
If you are experiencing an access to care issue or have a story to share feel free to send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading!