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Common Ways Hospitals May Discriminate Against Patients

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

When we go to a hospital, it's normally for a medical emergency when we need competent care quickly. We expect to get the medical treatment we need, and we expect to be treated just like any other patient. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Some hospitals may deny certain treatments or procedures based on religious grounds, and others are struggling with providing adequate medical services to transgender patients. And some doctors are profiling their patients based on race and gender. Here's a look at how hospitals discriminate against patients and what you can do about it.

Religious Discrimination

Many of us just assume that hospitals will provide whatever treatment we request, or whatever medical procedures are necessary. But some Catholic hospitals have denied patients certain treatments based on religious grounds. Most of the denied procedures have to do with women's reproductive health, like tubal ligation (sterilization by having your "tubes tied") and pre-birth pregnancy termination, even if it's virtually impossible to give birth to a healthy baby.

Catholic institutions provide an estimated 15 percent of all hospital services, and in some states 40 percent of all hospital beds are in institutions that apply religious directives to healthcare decisions. And while some hospitals have changed their policies in the face of sex discrimination lawsuits, many religious hospitals continue to deny procedures to patients.

Transgender Discrimination

A new study found 42 percent of female-to-male transgender adults reported verbal harassment, physical assault, or denial of equal treatment in a doctor's office or hospital, and one of the report's authors said, "Over a third of participants in the study were blatantly mistreated when they tried to get healthcare." And one transgender teen killed himself after being harassed at a children's hospital that claimed to specialize in transgender care, where he sought treatment for depression and anxiety.

Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) prohibits health care discrimination on the basis of gender identity, including refusing to treat transgender patients, refusing to use their names and pronouns correctly or room patients according to their gender identity, refusing to fill prescriptions for hormones, or performing unnecessary or aggressive genital examinations.

Patient Discrimination

We're used to hearing about profiling in the criminal context, but it happens at doctors' offices, too. Dr. Pamela Wible described patient profiling as "the practice of regarding particular patients as more likely to have certain behaviors or illnesses based on their appearance, race, gender, financial status, or other observable characteristics." This kind of profiling can lead to improper or inadequate healthcare, and "disproportionately impacts patients with chronic pain, mental illness, the uninsured, and patients of color."

If you feel like a doctor or hospital discriminated in your medical treatment, you may want to talk to an experienced attorney.

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