Feb 15, 2022

Patient Rights in a Pandemic

Asees Kaur

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on the Indian healthcare system as the number of cases in India rise on a daily basis. While doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are working really hard and putting their lives at risk to ensure patients are taken care of, there are also horror stories about how patients are being ill-treated and overcharged in the middle of the pandemic. In order to aid people through the pandemic, the government and other authorities have issued various orders and guidelines. For example, the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) directed all general and specialised health insurance companies to include coverage for coronavirus in existing health insurance plans. Therefore, anyone with an active health insurance policy can now file a claim for coronavirus. Indian laws also grant various rights to individuals who approach healthcare establishments. Let us understand what our patient rights are :

Right to transparency in care and rates

Every patient has a right to be informed about the rates charged by medical establishments for different facilities and services. These prices should be displayed and should also be available in the form of a brochure in both English as well as the local language. This allows the patients and their relatives to make informed choices about the treatment options they want to pursue. You have the right to receive an itemized detailed bill at the time of payment.

The Central govt authorises a range of rates that the hospital can charge, hence this ensures they can’t overcharge you.

In the midst of the pandemic, several governments including the Delhi government have prescribed maximum per day package rates for COVID related treatments in private hospitals. This is done so that treatment rates can be kept affordable, even in private establishments.

Right to Emergency Medical Care

Government, as well as private hospitals, have to provide patients with basic emergency medical care. This care should be provided immediately, irrespective of whether the patient can pay. This is because emergency medical care is essential since prompt action is necessary to deal with medical injuries.  While doctors can choose who they want to treat, they are obligated to help in emergency cases. Due to the pandemic, hospitals have been advised to postpone non-elective surgeries, however, some hospitals have used this as an excuse to deny treatment to non-COVID patients. For example, the Delhi government ordered that the hospitals should not deny treatment to patients that require emergency care.

Right to take discharge of the patient, or receive the body of the deceased from the hospital

A patient cannot be detained on grounds such as non-payment of hospital dues since they have the right to take discharge. Since precautions need to be taken in the middle of the pandemic, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) also released a discharge policy in an attempt to aid the discharge process.

The relatives and caregivers of the person also have the right to the dead body of the person. The body cannot be detained on procedural grounds. There is also a lot of misinformation about the spread of coronavirus through dead bodies, therefore, the MoHFW issued guidelines on the management of dead bodies. These guidelines mention that those handling the bodies should be wearing personal protective equipment and that the body bag should be disinfected, among other things. However, even if the patient is suspected to have COVID, the body should still be handed over to the relatives.

Right to confidentiality, human dignity and privacy

Every patient has the right to privacy and the doctors need to ensure that they maintain confidentiality and do not reveal any information about the patient without their consent. In certain cases, however, information can be revealed in case there are public health considerations. There have been privacy concerns with respect to revealing of names of patients that have tested positive for COVID-19. However, others contend that this is necessary in cases of diseases like COVID. The MoHFW has issued an advisory telling people to never spread names or identity of those affected or under quarantine or their locality on social media. But since states are in charge of managing COVID, states such as Gujarat have made the decision to reveal the names of COVID-19 patients. Other than that, female patients also have the right to the presence of another female person during a physical examination by a male practitioner. It is the duty of the hospital to ensure this. All data concerning the patient should be kept under secured safe custody and insulated from data theft and leakage.

Complaining against hospitals and doctors

If you have any grievances against the doctor or the hospital or if you feel like your patient rights have been violated, you can seek redressal for the same. Complaining at the hospital’s grievance office is the initial step that you could take, however, if that doesn’t resolve your issue, there are authorities you can approach. If there are any problems with the infrastructure of a clinical establishment then you could approach the nodal officers of your respective states and union territories that are appointed under the Clinical Establishments (Registration & Regulation) Act, 2010. You could also complain to the state medical councils for the same. If the hospital or doctor have engaged in criminal conduct then you can even file an FIR with police.

Patient education is extremely important, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. Thus, to learn about the rest of your patient rights, click here.

If you have more questions on the law relating to patient rights in India, Ask Nyaaya.


Asees Kaur is a student at NUJS, Kolkata and a member of Kautilya Society, an initiative of Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy. Views are personal.

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