When you walk into most hospitals you will find a variety of signs and messages hanging on the wall. If you stop to read them and you should you will find important facts about the hospital. For example you should find a certificate of accreditation from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Health Organizations.

If the hospital requests accreditation (and all will since payment of funds by the various federal programs depends on accreditation) it will be visited and inspected by this national organization. After a rather in-depth inspection process the hospital may receive accreditation for up to three years. It is a measure of the hospital’s quality and should not be ignored.

You also might see a statement that the hospital will provide a portion of its resources for care of indigent patients. Also perhaps a certificate stating that the hospital provides appropriate access and aids for handicapped patients.

Some hospitals also display the ”Patients Bill of Rights” which explain the rights and responsibilities of the patient. This is a very interesting document and I think appropriate to quote it in its entirety here.

The Patients Bill of Rights:

1. The patient has the right to considerate and respectful care.

2. The patient has the right to an explanation in terms the patient can understand of all information concerning diagnosis treatment and prognosis. The patient is responsible for giving accurate and complete information regarding health and medical care.

3. The patient has the right to receive full information about all procedures and treatments and to proceed with them only if he or she gives informed consent. Informed consent is consent in the light of full information concerning risks and medical alternatives. It is the patient’s duty to tell the health care provider if he or she does not understand the information given about the procedures or treatment.

4. The patient has the right to refuse treatment to the extent permitted by law. The patient has the right to be informed of the medical consequences of that refusal. The patient becomes responsible for the outcome if treatment is refused or instructions not followed.

5. The patient has the right to privacy concerning medical care. Such discussion examination and treatment shall be conducted discreetly.

6. The patient has the right to confidentiality regarding all records and communications concerning the patient’s care.

7. The patient has the right to reasonable responses to requests for service. The hospital provides evaluation service andor referral as appropriate to the patient’s needs. When transfer to another facility is indicated a complete explanation including alternatives will be given. Before transfer the receiving institution must first have accepted the patient.

8. The patient has the right to know who is involved in his or her care and their relationship to the hospital.

9. The patient has the right to be advised of medical research affecting care or treatment and to refuse to participate in such research.

10. The patient has the right to be informed of any continuing health care requirements. The hospital shall maintain the patient’s medical record and transfer it upon request by the patient.

11. The patient has the right to receive an explanation of hospital charges. The Patient has the duty to arrange for payment of those charges.

12. The patient has the right to know the hospital rules and regulations that apply to patient conduct. The patient is responsible for following hospital rules and regulations affecting patient care patient and visitor conduct and payment of services.

Please notice that several of these rights also are followed by responsibilities. Your health care is a mutual affair and you as well as the health care providers play a role in its conduct. It pays to do your fair share.

Dr. Michael M. Warren is Ashbel Smith professor of surgery at University of Texas Medical Branch Division of Urology.

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