Patients’ rights can help create greater transparency in terms of medical treatment. But they mainly turn patients into responsible patients who can insist on their rights at all times. These rights do not just apply vis-à-vis doctors but also vis-à-vis health insurance providers and other institutions.
At a glance
- Patients’ rights exist vis-à-vis those providing treatment, such as doctors.
- Rights vis-à-vis health insurance providers and other institutions are also commonly referred to as patients’ rights.
- Many people know their patient rights only partially or not at all.
- Patients are entitled to explanations and information, but also to look at their patient record.
- In many hospitals patient advocates help patients to understand their rights.
What are patients’ rights?
Even though Germany has an effective health system, adverse results and even errors can occur when treating patients. For example, patients can be treated incorrectly, or they may not be permitted to look at their treatment documents. But sometimes, too, their own wishes in relation to their treatment are disregarded.
Important: Patients’ rights help you to be able to always act as a responsible patient vis-à-vis treatment providers.
What types of patient rights are there?
As a patient, you have certain rights vis-à-vis those giving you treatment. So you can not only insist on these rights vis-à-vis doctors or institutions such as hospitals and care homes. Your patient rights also apply vis-à-vis other people working in the health system, such as alternative practitioners, midwives, and psychotherapists.
For example, as a patient you are entitled
- to choose your doctor.
- to look at your treatment documents and your patient record.
- get comprehensible information and explanations.
- make your own decisions (any medical measure may only be taken with your consent).
- to have your privacy and data protected.
- to be issued with a patient's receipt.
- to services such as medical care, rehabilitation, sickness benefits and nursing allowances.
- to request and receive compensation if there has been a treatment error.
- to freely choose your statutory health insurance provider (this applies to those covered by statutory health insurance).
Important: With medical treatment, many rights and obligations are regulated in the so-called treatment contract. These include, for example, the patient's entitlement to a diagnosis, therapy according to professional standards, and aftercare. The doctor must explain the benefits and risks prior to medical treatments, and provide information about alternative treatment methods. The patient's consent must then be obtained before carrying out the medical measure.
Not all the rights that are generally referred to as patients’ rights relate to the relationship between treater and treated. In everyday language, for example, the rights to freely choose one's doctor and rights to health insurance provider services are also referred to as patients’ rights. In general the fact is that legislators and the Joint Federal Committee (Gemeinsamer Bundesausschuss – G-BA) largely determine the rights of insured people.
Patient and self-help organizations also put forth their arguments at many levels, for instance on subjects such as the statutory health insurance providers’ catalog of services, the distribution of outpatient doctors, and quality assurance in health facilities. They are also patients’ rights in the broader sense.
What rights are there to information and explanations?
As a patient, you are entitled to have a detailed explanation of everything that is important to a treatment. This includes, for example, questions about the diagnosis, the likely evolution of your health, and the correct therapy. Doctors are obliged, for instance, to inform you in a manner that enables you to exercise your right to self-determination and to make a well-considered decision on a treatment or an intervention. This information has to be worded in a way that can be understood.
What rights are there in terms of optional medical services (IGeL)?
Optional medical services, or IGeL for short, are services that are not included in the statutory health insurance providers’ catalog of services and usually need to be paid for privately. They are services, for example, for which there is insufficient proof of their benefits, or which have not yet been subjected to a benefits analysis by the Joint Federal Committee (G-BA). When visiting their doctor, patients have to be informed that they will need to pay for the treatment before receiving it. Mentioning the risk of costs in general terms is not adequate. So you are entitled to see the probable costs in real numbers.
What is the right to view the patient record?
Doctors providing treatment are legally obliged to promptly document key facts in the patient record. The documenting must be done carefully and in full. The patient record particularly includes findings, interventions and their effects, and consents and declarations. As a patient, you may look at your patient record at any time, and make copies of it. While there are exceptions, the doctor must provide a reason for refusing. The doctor must indicate any changes or additions. This also applies to records kept in electronic form.
The documentation is not only important for transparency in the doctor-patient relationship but also, for example, if another doctor provides further treatment. But the documentation also plays a key role in cases of liability, for example if you, as the patient, want to take legal action due to a treatment error.
How can one find out about patients’ rights in hospital?
If someone is hospitalized, there are various ways of finding out about patients’ rights. Some federal states, for example in Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse and Berlin, require by law what are known as patient advocates in hospitals. They are also called ombudswomen or ombudsmen. But these independent patient advocates, who represent your concerns to the hospital, also exist in other federal states. If you are in need of such assistance, it is best to inquire in the hospital itself.
Since 2013 hospitals have also had to ensure they have a patient-oriented complaint management system. This includes hospitals putting complaint options in place and informing patients about these options on the premises. Complaints must also be processed speedily and transparently.
Where can I find more information about patients’ rights?
There are many laws relating to patient rights. The “Ratgeber für Patientenrechte” (Guide to Patient Rights), for example, offers more information on this subject (in German).
Link to the Ratgeber für Patientenrechte
The Independent Patient Advice Service for Germany (Unabhängige Patientenberatung Deutschland – UPD) provides a lot of information on patients’ rights (in German, Turkish and Russian).
To the Unabhängige Patientenberatung Deutschland (UPD) website