3 Things You May Not Know About the AHA Patient’s Bill of Rights


Even today, Americans don’t have many patients’ rights that are protected by law. While you are legally guaranteed privacy for and access to your medical records, there are a lot of gray areas surrounding effective patient care. In 1973, the American Hospital Association (AHA) decided to change that.

That’s why the AHA outlined a series of guidelines called the Patient’s Bill of Rights to create an effective partnership between patients and their healthcare providers. Now called the Patient Care Partnership, this bill ensures that all patients in US hospitals are able to give informed consent, are treated with dignity and respect, and are given full information about a diagnosis, treatment options, costs, recovery time, and prognosis.  

Here are 3 things that you may not know about the AHA Patient’s Bill of Rights.

1.    There’s No Single Patient’s Bill of Rights

The American Hospital Association’s instruction for patient care isn’t the only document that governs how hospitals are supposed to interact with patients and help actively involve them in their own care.

Since there isn’t major federal legislation about the rights to which patients are entitled, many states and institutions have drawn up their own guidelines for protecting, informing, and caring for patients and their medical records.

In 1973, the AHA adopted the first Patient’s Bill of Rights. Since then, the bill has undergone updates, revisions, and adaptions for use in global healthcare. While different versions of the AHA bill exist, the purpose remains the same.

The bill’s goal is to protect a patient’s sensitive information and make certain that a patient is given all relevant information about the situation before they consent to procedures or other care. It also focuses on fair and respectful treatment that is sensitive to gender, race, linguistic, religious, and cultural differences. In fact, the AHA bill emphasizes that cultural competency is vital for providing people with effective care.

2.    It’s Not a Law

Many people are surprised to find how few patient rights are protected by law. While the AHA Patient’s Bill of Rights isn’t enforceable in federal or state law, two of the bill’s agreements with patients mirror legally protected rights.

For example, your medical record privacy is protected by law. It’s called HIPAA and it means that no one can disclose your medical records without your written or verbal consent. You can expect your medical history, documents, and discussions about health to remain between you and your healthcare provider.

The second right protected under law and the AHA bill of rights is the ability to obtain your medical records. This means that a hospital must release a copy of your medical information to you upon request.

3.    It Fosters Patient Autonomy and Informed Consent

A cultural shift towards patient autonomy and conformed consent began in the 1970s when court opinion and medical institutions’ policies began to endorse a change. Patients no longer had to just accept that their doctor knew best or find that the hospital did not support their voice and choice.

By the 1990s, the Joint Commission required every hospital seeking national standard accreditation to inform every patient about their rights to care, privacy, autonomy, and consent.

In practical terms, a healthcare professional must inform you in full about your medical diagnosis. They must also outline options for procedures, treatment, or care. They must also inform you that you have the right to accept treatment, refuse it, or ask to transfer to another hospital.

Informed consent means that your doctor must give you enough information to help you make your own decision about your next steps and choose the treatment plan that works best for you. It’s an important way to empower patients and actively include them in their own care experience.


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