• A
  • |
  • A
  • Text size

Opinion 10.02 - Patient Responsibilities

It has long been recognized that successful medical care requires an ongoing collaborative effort between patients and physicians. Physician and patient are bound in a partnership that requires both individuals to take an active role in the healing process. Such a partnership does not imply that both partners have identical responsibilities or equal power. While physicians have the responsibility to provide health care services to patients to the best of their ability, patients have the responsibility to communicate openly, to participate in decisions about the diagnostic and treatment recommendations, and to comply with the agreed-upon treatment program.

Like patients’ rights, patients’ responsibilities are derived from the principle of autonomy. The principle of patient autonomy holds that an individual’s physical, emotional, and psychological integrity should be respected and upheld. This principle also recognizes the human capacity to self-govern and choose a course of action from among different alternative options. Autonomous, competent patients assert some control over the decisions which direct their health care. With that exercise of self-governance and free choice comes a number of responsibilities.

(1) Good communication is essential to a successful patient-physician relationship. To the extent possible, patients have a responsibility to be truthful and to express their concerns clearly to their physicians.

(2) Patients have a responsibility to provide a complete medical history, to the extent possible, including information about past illnesses, medications, hospitalizations, family history of illness, and other matters relating to present health.

(3) Patients have a responsibility to request information or clarification about their health status or treatment when they do not fully understand what has been described.

(4) Once patients and physicians agree upon the goals of therapy and a treatment plan, patients have a responsibility to cooperate with that treatment plan and to keep their agreed-upon appointments. Compliance with physician instructions is often essential to public and individual safety. Patients also have a responsibility to disclose whether previously agreed upon treatments are being followed and to indicate when they would like to reconsider the treatment plan.

(5) Patients generally have a responsibility to meet their financial obligations with regard to medical care or to discuss financial hardships with their physicians. Patients should be cognizant of the costs associated with using a limited resource like health care and try to use medical resources judiciously.

(6) Patients should discuss end-of-life decisions with their physicians and make their wishes known. Such a discussion might also include writing an advance directive.

(7) Patients should be committed to health maintenance through health-enhancing behavior. Illness can often be prevented by a healthy lifestyle, and patients should take personal responsibility when they are able to avert the development of disease.

(8) Patients should also have an active interest in the effects of their conduct on others and refrain from behavior that unreasonably places the health of others at risk. Patients should inquire as to the means and likelihood of infectious disease transmission and act upon that information which can best prevent further transmission.

(9) Participation in medical education is to the mutual benefit of patients and the health care system. Patients are encouraged to participate in medical education by accepting care, under appropriate supervision, from medical students, residents, and other trainees. Consistent with the process of informed consent, the patient or the patient’s surrogate decision maker is always free to refuse care from any member of the health care team.

(10) Patients should discuss organ donation with their physicians and, if donation is desired, make applicable provisions. Patients who are part of an organ allocation system and await needed transplant should not try to go outside of or manipulate the system. A fair system of allocation should be answered with public trust and an awareness of limited resources.

(11) Patients should not initiate or participate in fraudulent health care and should report illegal or unethical behavior by physicians and other providers to the appropriate medical societies, licensing boards, or law enforcement authorities. (I, IV, VI)

Issued June 1994 based on the report "Patient Responsibilities", adopted June 1993; Updated June 1998, December 2000, and June 2001.