Formalised in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises “the inherent dignity” and the “equal and unalienable rights of all members of the human family”.
And it is on the basis of this concept of the person, and the fundamental dignity and equality of all human beings, that the notion of patient rights was developed. In other words, what is owed to the patient as a human being, by physicians and by the state, took shape in large part thanks to this understanding of the basic rights of the person.
It is evident in Article 25 clause 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family including medical care.
Access to quality healthcare is, therefore, a right and not a privilege. No government does its citizens a favour by providing quality and accessible healthcare and no health professional does any patient a favour by attending to him/her.
Ghana became a member of the United Nations on 8th March 1957 and by convention, adopted the document on Universal Declaration of Human Rights and must, therefore, take proactive steps to ensure that these standards are met in the country.
In Ghana, healthcare is predominantly provided by the government and the Ghana Health Service, with the motto, “your health our concern”, is a public service body established under Act 525 of 1996 with the mandate to provide and prudently manage comprehensive and accessible health service with special emphasis on primary healthcare at regional, district and sub-district levels in accordance with approved national policies. Teaching hospitals, private and mission hospitals are not under the Ghana Health service but are also to ensure that they provide the best of care to all clients at all times.
The patient charters are guidelines that target the relationship between health professionals and users of health services, providing information on standards of care that patients can expect to receive and demand as a basic human right.
Assuring that the rights of patients are protected requires more than educating policymakers and health providers; it requires educating citizens about what they should expect from their governments and their health care providers—about the kind of treatment and respect they are owed. Citizens, then, can have an important part to play in demanding what is owed them which will go a long way to improve the healthcare delivery system in the country.
Several Ghanaians seem to be unaware of their rights and responsibilities leading to poor health services and sometimes deaths. Many people attend hospitals/clinics, are diagnosed and given medications without them knowing what they are being treated for. Those who are bold enough to ask about their conditions and management are sometimes ignored or given medical jargons they don’t understand, which is, however, contrary to the patients charter, which insists that the healthcare provider must provide full information on the patient’s/client’s condition and management and the possible risks involved except in emergency situations when the patient is unable to make a decision and the need for treatment is urgent and in the event that the provider fails to provide this information or does but the client needs further clarification, it is the responsibility of the client to demand and same must be provided by the healthcare provider.
Patient safety has become a serious global public health concern because of the rising incidents of medical errors.
Medical errors are the third-leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 250,000 lives annually, after heart attack and cancer, according to a recent Johns Hopkins study led by Dr. Martin Makary.
Some studies put the figure at a staggering 440,000 deaths annually in a society were structures and systems are working and one may wonder what the statistics may be in a country like ours, where facilities are not up to the required standards, provider to patient ratio far exceeds W.H.O. recommendations and the competencies of some providers cannot even be guaranteed. Some medication errors which could have been fatal have been avoided simply because those clients were given full information on their conditions and treatment and thus were able to identify wrong medications dispensed to them and reported to their providers.
The service, therefore, requires collaboration between health workers, patients/clients and society. Thus the attainment of optimal health care is dependent on Team Work. Without the patients/clients, there wouldn’t be a health facility and health workers. Health facilities must, therefore, provide for and respect the rights and responsibilities of patients/clients and families. They must be sensitive to patient's socio-cultural and religious backgrounds, age, gender and other differences as well as the needs of patients with disabilities.
The wealth of a nation, they say, is dependent on the health of its citizens”. If that is the case, why then have most African leaders relegated healthcare systems to the background? Are they violating human rights and if so are there any remedies for victims of poor medical care or medical negligence?
Human rights abuses did not end when the Universal Declaration was adopted. But since then, countless people have gained greater freedom. Violations have been prevented; independence and autonomy have been attained.
Many people have been able to secure freedom from torture, unjustified imprisonment, summary execution, enforced disappearance, persecution and unjust discrimination, as well as fair access to education, economic opportunities, and adequate resources and healthcare.
They have obtained justice for wrongs, and national and international protection for their rights, through the strong architecture of the international human rights legal system. There are systems in place to seek redress for violation of rights as a patient including medical negligence but how can you trigger this mechanism if you do not know your rights in the first place? This is akin to someone who has an inheritance but unaware of it, such a person will live like a pauper forever.
Below are some of the rights and responsibilities you have as a client visiting any health facility and you must feel free to demand them at any time as your basic human right.
THE PATIENT'S RIGHTS
The patient has the right to quality basic health care irrespective of his/her geographical location.
The patient is entitled to full information on his/her condition and management and the possible risks involved except in emergency situations when the patient is unable to make a decision and the need for treatment is urgent.
The patient is entitled to know of alternative treatment(s) and other health care providers within the Service if these may contribute to improved outcomes.
The patient has the right to privacy during consultation, examination and treatment. In cases where it is necessary to use the patient or his/her case notes for teaching and conferences, the consent of the patient must be sought.
The patient is entitled to the confidentiality of information obtained about him or her and such information shall not be disclosed to a third party without his/her consent or the person entitled to act on his/her behalf except where such information is required by law or is in the public interest.
The patient is entitled to all relevant information regarding policies and regulation of the health facilities that he/she attends.
Procedures for complaints, disputes and conflict resolution shall be explained to patients or their accredited representatives.
Hospital charges, mode of payments and all forms of anticipated expenditure shall be explained to the patient prior to treatment.
The patient has the right to a second medical opinion if he/she so desires.
THE PATIENT'S RESPONSIBILITIES
Requesting additional information and or clarification regarding his/her health or treatment, which may not have been well understood.
Complying with prescribed treatment, reporting adverse effects and adhering, to follow up requests.
Informing his/her healthcare providers of any anticipated problems in following prescribed treatment or advice.
Obtaining all necessary information, which have a bearing on his/her management and treatment including all financial implications.
Acquiring knowledge, on preventive, promotive and simple curative practices and where necessary to seeking early professional help.
The writer is a Public Health Expert and the Executive Director of Gamma Health Consult Limited.
Contact us if you or a relative have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article and need professional advice.
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