It’s a scary and overwhelming experience to be a patient in a hospital. 

Not only are you likely in great pain or discomfort, you may also be worried about what’s wrong and what kinds of tests or treatments you might need.

A woman reclines in a hospital bed. One hand is on her forehead, the other holding a phone to her ear. She looks strained. Image from Canva

Being assertive with people of authority isn’t always easy under the best of circumstances, and the physical and emotional toll of being in the hospital can make it that much more difficult.

What can you do when your patient rights aren't being upheld?

Know Your Rights

Your rights as a hospital patient include:

  • High quality care 

  • A clean and safe environment

  • Involvement in your care (including the right to informed consent)

  • Protection of your privacy

  • Help with your bill and filing insurance claims

  • Preparing you and your family for when you leave the hospital

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Lauren went to the ER with a broken ankle. At discharge, she's told she has a UTI (urinary tract infection) & antibiotics are prescribed. She isn’t informed of possible side effects or how they reached that diagnosis. Which patient right wasn't upheld?

Speak Up

If you're not receiving the care you're entitled to, speak up to hospital staff.

Be polite but assertive. Speak calmly and focus on asking for what you need.

This could sound like:

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"I want my privacy for this exam. I’m not comfortable with medical students being in the room."

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"My pain level is at an 8 out of 10, and I already took over-the-counter pain medication at home which didn’t work. I need stronger pain meds."

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"Unless there's a medical reason you need my weight, I'm going to decline being weighed today."

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"I don’t have insurance. Who can I speak to about my financial assistance options?"

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Use the "BRAN" Approach

You have a right to understand your medical condition, the treatment options available to you, and what their risks and benefits are. This allows you to give informed consent to treatment.

Flaticon Icon If a healthcare provider tells you that you need a certain treatment, and you're unsure about it, try using the BRAN approach to ask your provider questions.

Benefits: “What are the benefits of this treatment?”

Risks: “What are the risks?”

Alternatives: “What are the other options?”

Nothing: “What might happen if we do nothing?”

Woman says


Eric is at the ER with severe back pain. His doctor tells him that scans show a herniated disc in his spine and recommends surgery, telling Eric it will relieve his pain. Which parts of BRAN were NOT discussed?

Bring a Support Person

If possible, ask a supportive friend or a family member to come to the hospital with you and be your advocate.

Flaticon Icon When you don't feel well, it’s hard to communicate your needs and to weigh your options. These both require mental energy that you may not have. A friend or family member can be your spokesperson and help you understand your options and make a decision.

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If your friend or family member can't physically come to the hospital with you, consider having them on speakerphone or video call while you speak with your medical providers.

Talk to your support person beforehand if the hospital stay is planned in advance and let them know what you might need and what things are important to you.

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File a Complaint

If you had a bad experience at a hospital, you can file a complaint. A woman says,

You can usually check the hospital’s website to find out how to do this. Try to write down all the relevant details (such as the date, time, and names of individuals involved) as soon as possible, in case you forget them.

If your complaint is not resolved by your hospital, you can also report the incident to your state’s health department or to the Joint Commission, which certifies most US hospitals. 

Take Action

Hopefully you'll never be hospitalized, but if you are, remember your rights and don't be afraid to speak up!

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