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You and Your Doctor: Rights and Resposibilities

As part of a growing health and cost conscious public, we now take more responsibility for our health. More concerned about what we eat, drink and how we exercise, we also bring a questioning approach to health care. We are now forging new relationships with our doctors and we are less likely to sit passively and accept unquestioningly our doctor's directions. We want second opinions, alternative treatments or medications.

As a person with SCI, you know you will spend more time with doctors and other health care professionals than most people. It is a good idea to know your rights and responsibilities as a patient as well as your doctors rights and responsibilities.

What Are Your Rights?

As one who knows your body, your aches and pains, your specific needs related to your injury, you have the right to two-way communication with your doctor about your long-term care concerns. You have the right to whatever information you need about your injury and possible complications arising from the injury.

Kievman, in her book, For Better or For Worse, suggests that you also have other rights, such as:

Never be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question as far as your health is concerned. You have a right to know and understand. You have a right to express your concerns, doubts and fears, and to be heard.

What Are Your Responsibilities:

In addition to your rights, YOU HAVE RESPONSIBILITIES TO YOUR DOCTOR. You need to tell him your medical history, what other doctors you may be seeing, what medications you use or have used, and what is your alcohol or drug history. If you have a right to the best treatment available, then you have the responsibility to share with your doctor information that will help him or her diagnose, medicate or treat your particular problems. If you keep things from your doctor, then the treatment you receive may be ineffective or dangerous.

It is also your responsibility to tell your doctor everything you know about your injury, its possible long-term effects, and complications.

Additional Responsibilities:

In addition, you are responsible for:

Your Doctor Has Rights, too...

Among your doctor's rights are:

...and Responsibilities

While this seems obvious, physicians are accountable for:

As you age with your spinal cord injury, you need people to work with you to keep you healthy and to improve your quality of life. Your doctor is the key to your health. As part of your team, your physician wants you to understand the rights and responsibilities you both have.

Remember: your doctor is working for you!


Building a New Dream: A Family Guide to Coping with Chronic Illness by Janet Maurer.

Reading, Mass: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1989.

For Better or For Worse: A Couples Guide to Dealing with Chronic Illness by Beverly Kievman, with Susie Blackmun. Chicago: Contemporary Books,1989.

This is one of more than 20 educational brochures developed by Craig Hospital while it was a federally-funded Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Aging with Spinal Cord Injury. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the funding agency, the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research of the US Department of Education.

For a hard copy of a METS brochure, click on your selection above and hit the "print" button on your browser. If you'd like to ask for one directly from Craig Hospital, please contact Irene VanCleave in writing, by calling 303-789-8202, or e-mail Irene at irene@craig-hospital.org.

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