Patients’ Rights: How to Navigate Treatment and Billing at Your Next Doctor’s Visit

Doctor’s visits can be more than daunting. Feeling intimidated by the white coats and the stern receptionist is often considered part and parcel of a typical doctor’s visit. This notion however, is not conducive to a positive healthcare experience. It can prevent you from speaking up when you feel uncomfortable, asking the questions you need to ask, and debating a bill you shouldn’t have received. From treatment to billing, putting your health, personal information and pocketbook in someone else’s hands is difficult. That’s why it’s so important to have a complete understanding of your rights as a patient, so you can leave your fears behind and take control of your healthcare.

The first thing to know as a patient is exactly what you are entitled to during a doctor’s visit. According to the Patient’s Bill of Rights, New York State Hospital Code Law from the New York State Department of Health, all patients have the right to be treated fairly and openly, regardless of sexuality, race, gender, age or socioeconomic status. Care must be considerate, respectful and completely confidential at all times. If your doctor does not treat you with the level of respect you feel you deserve, or if you are made to feel that your health information is being shared, you have the right to report these issues to the American Medical Association.

Patients also have the right to access any information about their office visits and receive copies of their medical records upon request. This should never be an issue during your doctor’s visit. You have the right to know exactly what was done and exactly how much you were billed for the procedure. You also have the right to know when insurance bills were filed and under what codes.

Another issue that often plagues patients is unexpected medical bills for procedures that they thought were covered under their insurance policies. One of the best ways to avoid this problem is to plan ahead. If you go in for a specific procedure, especially if it is supposed to be fully covered by your insurer, get some information about the billing process first. Unexpected bills usually pop up when your doctor’s office uses a code for a procedure that is not recognized by your insurer. Call your insurance company and ask about the specific names and codes for the procedure you need covered. When you get to the doctor’s office, ask them if they will bill your insurer using that code. Addressing these issues head-on prevents arguing over bills post-visit.

Finally, when it comes to patient’s rights, some of the least inclined so speak up are those utilizing federal benefits such as Medicare. It is illegal to provide less adequate treatment to patients of low socioeconomic status, so be aware of your rights if you are on Medicare. For example, there are documented cases in which hospitals take advantage of Medicare billing and offer procedures executed by untrained assistants or by aides or nurses when doctor’s are not close enough to help. This not only affects patient’ billing, it also takes advantage of government aid. If you are a Medicare patient and feel uncomfortable with any aspect of the care you are provided, you have just as much right to speak up as anyone else. Don’t settle for less during your office visits or throughout the billing process just because you are receiving financial assistance.

With knowledge about patients’ rights in hand, planning your next health care visit will not be as daunting. And the feeling you get from gaining complete control of your health will be just as rewarding as getting the care you deserve.