Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Your Rights When Choosing a Doctor

Choosing a physician is one of several patient rights and one of the most important decisions you can make. Though people have different doctors for different medical concerns, most have a primary care physician. Since doctors are intimately involved in our lives, we should exercise great care in choosing a health care provider.

Getting a second medical opinion is another vital patient right. You can get another opinion if you disagree with your current doctor's opinion on a medical condition. While no one can guarantee that the second doctor's opinion will differ from your doctor's, a second opinion can offer peace of mind.

This FindLaw article will explore patient rights and examine the right to respectful care consistent with your beliefs and the right to a second medical opinion.

Patient Rights

Although we do not have a national patient bill of rights, the American Medical Association has a model patient bill of rights. The AMA based its opinion on several principles of medical ethics that focus on the physician-patient relationships. The law is also a source of patient rights.

Consider the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 2009 (HIPAA). Under HIPAA, you have the right to privacy and the right to copies of your medical information or records. Although HIPAA alone is not part of a patient bill of rights, it does help form the foundation of one.

Your patient rights include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Right to privacy
  • Right to make an informed decision
  • Right to refuse treatment
  • Right to complete information from your provider about your conditions and treatment plan
  • Right to respectful care consistent with your beliefs
  • Right to a second opinion
  • Right to copies of your medical records
  • Right to continuity of care
  • Right to make advance directives

When you start treatment with a new health care provider or at a new facility, ask for a copy of their patient bill of rights. This will help you understand your patients' rights and provide contacts if a provider violates your rights.

You have several options if you believe a physician or health care professional has violated one of these rights. You can report them to the hospital or health care facility where they work. Many health care facilities have a patient advocate office where you can file complaints. Or, you can report the physician or health care provider to your state's licensing board.

You can learn more about your patient rights in the FindLaw Patient Rights section.

Considerations When Choosing a Physician

Although your choice of a physician is not binding, it is still a decision with potentially permanent consequences depending on treatment options. You should do your due diligence when choosing a new doctor.

Finding a physician who accepts your health insurance plan is only part of the decision-making process. Once you find potential doctors who meet your criteria and accept your insurance, you should dig deeper to help guide your decision.

Checking the physician's credentials and their history are two ways to dive deeper into your prospective choices.

Check the Physician's Credentials

Before you choose a physician, you should ensure they have the qualifications to treat you. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you deserve peace of mind knowing your health care provider is licensed.

At a bare minimum, physicians should have the following:

  • An undergraduate degree
  • A medical degree (or its equivalent)
  • A completed residency
  • A license to practice

There are different ways to research credentials. Your health insurance company is one option. You can go to its website and look at a provider's credentials. You can also check with your state's medical licensing board to confirm their licensure and disciplinary history.

Since physician licensure requires at least two degrees and a residency, checking with the medical licensing board is likely enough. Or, you can check with the institutions directly. You can call their undergraduate college and medical school to confirm that they graduated with the appropriate degrees.

Check the Physician's History

Respectful patient care is a cornerstone of the patient-physician relationship. No one wants a physician who doesn't care about their well-being or has a history of negligence. You have several sources to check their reputation for yourself. You can ask friends and colleagues for recommendations or referrals. You can check with online review platforms like Healthgrades to help you develop a complete picture of the physician's history.

Taking these steps while choosing a physician can help you avoid issues in your patient-physician relationship and give you peace of mind.

Right To Respectful Care That Meets Your Beliefs

We live in a time of significant technological advances in medicine. From fertility treatments to gender-affirming care, medical advances help us to live whole and authentic lives. Physicians are humans with their own opinions. But those opinions should not affect your care or treatment options.

AMA Medical Ethics

Under the AMA's principles of medical ethics, a physician must have a dedication to providing "competent medical care, with compassion and respect for human dignity and rights." Consider, for example, a patient whose religious beliefs prohibit pork and products derived from pork. This person would like to decline a porcine heart valve replacement. Their entire health care team must respect the patient's religious beliefs, including respect for alternative non-porcine treatment options.

Reporting Disrespect for Your Beliefs

If anyone disrespects or refuses to respect the patient's beliefs, the patient can file complaints with the patient advocate and the medical licensing board. The patient may also review any legal options with a health care attorney.

Right to a Second Medical Opinion

Many of your patient rights interconnect. For example, your rights to make an informed decision and to complete information about your medical condition and treatment plan complement your right to a second medical opinion.

As the name implies, a second medical opinion is the second opinion you can seek on a medical condition or issue. You report strange and new physical symptoms to your primary care physician, who orders tests. A specialist reviews the test results and gives you their professional opinion about the cause of your symptoms and recommended treatment. The test results and specialist opinion can help you make treatment decisions and give informed consent.

If you disagree with the specialist or want peace of mind, you can request a second opinion. Depending on your health plan, you can see a second doctor to help you make the best decision. This is one way in which informed consent, complete information, and your right to a second medical opinion converge. The second opinion can give you more complete information on which to base your decision.

Reasons To Request a Second Opinion

Patients have their reasons for seeking a second medical opinion. Some of these reasons include, but are not limited to:

  • They don't trust their doctor's opinion
  • They don't like their medical treatment options
  • To reconfirm the diagnosis
  • They believe a new doctor will bring a fresh perspective

There is no guarantee that a second opinion will contradict the first doctor's opinion or proposed treatment plan.

Getting a Second Medical Opinion

Always check with your health plan for specific information on requesting a second medical opinion. Generally, you may have to tell your doctor you want a second opinion. To maintain your patient-physician relationship, consider speaking to them about your concerns when you ask for a second opinion. Then, you should follow your plan's process for getting a second medical opinion.

Be prepared to complete requests to transfer your medical records and your first meeting with the new doctor. They will want to know your reasons for requesting a second opinion and a narrative on your journey to a second opinion.

Get Legal Help

Understanding and exercising your patient rights helps ensure the quality of your health care and your life. If you have any concerns related to your patient rights, you should speak to a health care attorney. They are experts in health law and can give you sound legal advice. Speak to an experienced health care attorney today.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified health care attorney to help navigate legal issues around your health care.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options