Do patients have “needs” or do patients have “rights?” When I was in medical school – a couple of decades ago – we talked about patient’s needs. Today, the concept has matured to patient’s rights. In fact, in 1997 President Clinton signed a Patients Bill of Rights into law.

However, if you are like me, a doctor or a patient, we have little idea what rights we are entitled to as patients. Here they are in brief: Information disclosure, choice of providers and plans, access to emergency services, participation in treatment decisions, respect and nondiscrimination, complaints and appeals.

Such issues questions are exceedingly relevant today, when Americans feel they are not sufficient information or quality healthcare from their providers. Also with electronic medical records a reality, one press of the “send” message can make confidential health records available to billions in a nanosecond.

To help sort through these issues of patient’s rights, here is no better authority than George A. Annas, JD, Professor of Health Law and Bioethics and my former professor from Boston University School of Public Health. What I remember of Prof. Annas’s class was – a brilliant lawyer who danced in front of the blackboard presenting case after case from Roe vs. Wade to Karen Ann Quinlan. And now, he is one of the leading authority on the Terri Schiavo’s case.

On April 4, Prof Annas is the keynote speaker at the “2006 Conference on Freedom: Patients Rights a Shared Responsibility” sponsored by National Civil Rights Museum and held at Rhodes College. ( The conference will open with keynote by Dr. Annas on “Rights of Patients as Civil Rights: Moving from Recognition to Enforcement” and then Dr. William Owen JR., Chancellor of University of Tennessee Health Science Center, will facilitate a panel on healthcare disparities and broadening access to healthcare. During lunch Dr. Allen Battles, Professor from University of Tennessee, will talk about the barriers to Patient’s Rights from the Clinician’s Perspective. The afternoon will end with panel discussions on patient rights in end of life and new concepts in patient centered care.

Connecting civil rights to patient’s rights in not a novel idea. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Nearly all patient rights advocates acknowledge – as Americans we are violating the first and most fundamental right of humans – the right to healthcare. There are nearly 45 million Americans who are victims and 255 million American who are witness to this violation in patient rights. But until that issue can upstage the political and economic barriers we need to continue our effort on other aspects – gaining awareness and encouraging advocacy.

Why do we need patient’s rights? Three main reasons – First – when we are sick we are not able to exercise our rights Second physician and health plans sometime fail to recognize these rights and third to preserve the doctor-patient partnership model in making medical decisions.

Civil Rights are guarnteed to every American by the Bill of Rights – but what is patient rights and who guarntees it?

Just as there are Human Rights, there are Patients Rights. Just as every American has a Bill of Rights covered by the constitution a law passed by Congress in 1997 gives Patient’s Bill of Rights and Responsibility. I, a practicing physician 20 years, did not know about this – and neither do most of my patients.

Sometimes patient’s complain that are not provided enough information about their condition or are not treated respectfully by their doctor or their healthplan, or fear they will not receive emergency treatment – but these rights are guanteed. Patient often need a patient advocate just as a … needs a lawyer.

The goal of the forum is to first make pateint’s aware of their rights. Without the knowledge of their rights they cannot exercise their rights