The health care world can be overwhelming. This section discusses ways to make sure your needs and preferences are heard, especially when you might be feeling vulnerable.
Know Your Legal Rights
All California hospital patients have certain legal rights. At any time while you’re in the hospital:
- You have the right to leave.
- You have the right to refuse any treatment, test, or medication.
- You have the right to participate in decisions.
- You have the right to file a complaint.
- You have the right to privacy.
If you’re concerned about privacy, you can create your own policy to give to your doctors and the hospital.
Create Advance Directives
One of the most important things you can do ahead of time is to think about your preferences for medical care, talk with your loved ones and doctor, and document your wishes in case you are unable to speak for yourself. Being clear about your wishes in advance of your hospitalization will help make sure you receive only the care you want.
Once completed, these documents should be discussed with and copies given to your doctors, your spokesperson and other loved ones, as well as given to the hospital medical records department. Most hospitals provide forms to patients at no cost, as do some doctors.
Advance Health Care Directive. This legal document is a way to make your health care preferences known. Advance directives allow you to:
- Appoint who you want to be your spokesperson to make decisions for you if you can’t.
- Describe your wishes regarding future medical decisions.
You can find free Advance Health Care Directive forms online.
POLST. If you have a serious health condition, you also may find it helpful to talk with the doctor about Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). This document complements the advance directive by recording your wishes for receiving specific medical treatment, including:
- Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
- Antibiotics and IV fluids
- A ventilator to help with breathing
- Artificial nutrition by tube
For more information about POLST, talk with your doctor or visit the POLST website.
Organ/Tissue Donation. You also may want to consider organ, tissue, or whole body donation if you die while in the hospital. While we all hope for the best possible outcomes, preparing in this way can save your family a difficult decision and also provide a huge benefit to others. The Donate Life California Organ & Tissue Donor Registry is a secure and confidential way to document your intentions.
Arrange Your Personal Support Network
While some hospital stays — such as those for minor procedures — may be less worrisome than others, being in the hospital can be a difficult and potentially risky event for those who are older, less healthy, or who have multiple and serious medical problems.
In these instances, it is a good idea to do everything possible to make sure you come through the experience as hoped. The best way to do this is to have friends or family members at the hospital with you during your stay. They will be your “advocates” — there to make sure that your preferences are always foremost in the care you receive.
Make these arrangements before you go into the hospital, asking friends or family members if they can be there to speak for you if you’re heavily medicated or unconscious. Experts recommend that you have someone with you at all times in the hospital, so consider asking more than one person to help, so they are there in shifts. If this is not possible, it can still be very helpful to have an advocate with you for a few hours each day of your hospital stay.
Once you’ve selected your advocate(s), make sure they have everything they need to act as your representative:
- Go over your care plan so they know what to expect and what you want.
- If you have more than one advocate, be sure they exchange contact information.
- Introduce your advocate(s) to hospital staff when the opportunity arises.
- Give your advocate(s) copies of any legal documents you’ve created regarding your health.
- Ask your advocate(s) to read these sections on CalQualityCare.org so they can be well informed: Ensure Your Rights and Preferences (this page) and Know Your Risks.
- Call your hospital to find out what steps to take and which privacy forms to fill out to make sure your advocate(s) will be given information regarding your care and condition.
Finally, ask your advocate(s) to be at the hospital when you get released, so they can listen to the discharge plan and drive you home. You’ll also probably need your advocate(s) to help you get food, medications, and supplies for your first few days at home.