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What Rights Do Older Adult Patients Have in a Hospital?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Checking in to the hospital can be scary for anyone. This is especially true for older people, who generally suffer more serious ailments and need longer hospital stays to recover.

They are also more likely to be confused by healthcare terms or medical providers or misled regarding their medical treatment. It's important for older adult patients and their friends and family members to know and advocate for their rights as a patient.

Here are a few rights older adult patients have in a hospital and how to ensure they are protected. Sometimes these same rules apply to nursing homes or long-term care facilities as well.

Informed consent is the quintessential right any patient has regarding their medical care. The phrase “informed consent” refers to the requirement for doctors and medical staff to explain:

  • The potential benefits, risks, and alternatives involved with a course of treatment
  • A patient's ability to understand and weigh that information
  • A patient's written consent to be treated

This issue of informed consent can get tricky with older adult patients. They may be incapacitated or unable to fully weigh the issues surrounding their medical treatment. This is why it helps to have a living will or durable power of attorney that can dictate a person's wishes regarding medical treatment if they cannot do so.

Caregivers should know what these legal documents say or know the wishes of their loved ones. Knowing an older patient’s wishes for long-term care planning, short-term hospital care, or various health care needs is essential.

(Note: Hand-in-hand with the right to consent to medical treatment is the right to refuse treatment.)

The Right to Privacy For an Older Adult’s Medical History

There are federal and state laws that protect the confidentiality of your medical records and medical treatment. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits doctors and medical professionals from disclosing your records without consent.

Many states have their own medical privacy statutes that require your written consent before health care providers can share your patient information with third parties.

The Right to Quality of Care and High-Quality Treatment

In emergency situations, hospitals are required to provide medical screening examinations to determine if there is a medical emergency. They may need to use stabilizing treatment if necessary. Hospital staff may not deny treatment based on race, ethnicity, or religion.

In all other medical treatments, hospitals owe their patients a duty of care. They must provide treatment with the same degree of skill, care, and diligence as similar medical facilities. And in medical malpractice cases, hospitals can be held liable for the negligence of their doctors or medical staff.

If you have more questions regarding an older adult patient’s rights or feel that your rights as a patient have been violated, you may want to talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney near you.

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