Calling all patients: Ask your questions and know your rights

July 26, 2018 Providence Health Team


Everyone has the right and responsibility to be a wise health consumer.

Don’t be shy about asking your doctor questions.

The provider-patient alliance is most effective when the patient and the provider work together.


“I’d like to run some tests.”

When you hear your physician say this, if you’re like most people, you have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the words mean something about you may not be right, and your medical team wants to figure out what it is. So do you. 

But the words also mean you’re being asked to submit to being poked and examined so others can discuss what’s happening in your body. This can make you feel as if you’ve surrendered control.

So, when your physician tells you she wants to run some tests, remember you deserve to be fully informed before you agree to anything. You have questions. You have a right to ask them.

Here are some things you can ask your provider after being told he’d like to run a test:

  1. Why do you think this test is necessary?
  2. What will the results tell us?
  3. How will the results guide my treatment?
  4. Will I need to take more tests?
  5. If so, how many and how often?
  6. If I decide not to have this test or future tests, what are the risks?
  7. What’s the benefit of having this test done?
  8. How certain is it this test will tell you what you need to know?

For example, here’s a look at the way these questions might play out if you’re being asked to have a mammogram, and then to have a biopsy. Here is a helpful list of basic questions you can ask before choosing a pediatrician, straight from a mother who is a pediatrician herself.

Your rights as a patient

The provider-patient alliance is most effective when the patient and the provider work together. Your provider has an interest in making sure you are fully informed, empowered to make decisions for yourself and feel respected. In its Code of Medical Ethics, the American Medical Association puts it this way:

“The health and well-being of patients depends on a collaborative effort between patient and physician in a mutually respectful alliance. Patients contribute to this alliance when they fulfill responsibilities they have, to seek care and to be candid with their physicians…Physicians can best contribute to a mutually respectful alliance with patients by serving as their patients’ advocates and by respecting patients’ rights.”

This relationship means patients have the right to ask questions about their health status and treatment, and to have them answered, the AMA says.

The American Hospital Association offers similar guidance in its publication, The Patient Care Partnership: Understanding Expectations, Rights and Responsibility. In addition to assuring patients they have the right to be fully informed and participate in medical decisions, the AHA addresses your right to have your own health goals taken into consideration and discusses who shall make decisions if you cannot.

Health systems and hospitals typically publish their own guidelines about patient rights. Providence advises patients of their rights while receiving care from Providence providers — here are examples in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. The words and formats differ a little, but in general they all say, among other things, that patients:

  • Deserve to be treated with respect and compassion
  • Shall receive care in a safe setting
  • Have the right to have any and all questions answered
  • May accept or refuse treatment
  • Have the right to participate in medical decisions
  • May access their medical records

You can discuss these guidelines and ask questions of all of your providers. Find a skilled, compassionate physician in the Providence St. Joseph Health network of care with whom to build a trusted doctor-patient relationship.

Providence Health & Services

St. Joseph Health

Covenant Health

Facey Medical Group


Kadlec Clinic


Pacific Medical Centers


This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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