Healthcare is a human right, and everyone deserves access to the care they need to be healthy. But lots of people worry about pain, expenses, discrimination, and lots of other things when seeing a doctor. As someone seeking healthcare, you have patient rights!
Knowing what your rights are as a patient can help you feel more comfortable. A lot of people know about doctor-patient confidentiality, but patient rights go beyond that! Understanding them can make it easier to ask for what you need from healthcare professionals, and can help you take charge of your own body and healthcare. And if someone doesn’t respect your rights, you have options!
What are patient rights? What should I know about my rights when I see a doctor?
In Quebec, the Act Respecting Health and Social Services protects peoples’ rights when they’re patients. All healthcare professionals must follow the Act Respecting Health and Social Services. Under this act, patients over the age of 14 have the right to:
- Consent. Doctors can’t force patients into treatment they don’t want. They also can’t keep you from knowing information about your own health. That means you can access your own medical records any time, and you can tell your doctors what kinds of treatment you want or don’t want.
- If you can’t consent to treatment (for example, if you’re unconscious), someone close to you like a family member can make healthcare decisions for you. You have the right to decide who is allowed to make decisions for you in that kind of situation.
- Healthcare that’s appropriate for you. Doctors need to take a patient’s values into consideration when it comes to their treatment. This includes religious beliefs and cultural practices.
- Confidential medical records. Doctors can’t share information about your health without your consent. (There may be exceptions for this when a doctor thinks a patient is at serious risk for hurting themselves or someone else.)
- Emergency services. You have the right to immediate care when it’s needed to save your life.
I’m under 14. What are my rights as a patient?
If you’re under 14, your rights are different from those of adults. Your legal parent or guardian has the right to make medical decisions for you. They may also decide what information in your medical record you can access. And they can allow healthcare professionals to share your medical records with other doctors, hospitals, and clinics.
If a minor disagrees with their parents decisions about their healthcare, the case can be brought before a judge. The judge has to hear from the minor in question, and take their feelings and opinions into consideration when making their decision.
If you’re 14-17 or an emancipated minor
If you’re between the ages of 14 and 17, you have the same legal rights as an adult patient, with a few exceptions. You can give or refuse consent to medical procedures and access your medical records without your parent or guardian’s input. But if you need to stay at a clinic or hospital for longer than 12 hours, your parent or guardian can be notified.
If you’re an emancipated minor, or in foster care, your rights as a patient may be different. In Quebec, the Youth Protection Act covers the rights of minors regarding health and social services. You can read more about emancipation and youth rights at EducaLoi.
Patient rights and trans healthcare
Trans people have the same patient rights as everyone else. In Canada, it’s illegal for healthcare providers to discriminate against patients on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. That means doctors can’t refuse to treat someone just because they’re trans.
Patients also have the right to stop seeing a doctor who doesn’t respect their identity, and to look for a doctor who does. This includes if a doctor doesn’t take someones’ need for HRT or other gender-affirming care seriously.
While Canadian public healthcare does cover gender-affirming healthcare (like top and bottom surgeries), which procedures are covered can vary from province to province.
Does having HIV affect my rights? What about other STIs?
People living with HIV have the same patient rights as everyone else. This includes the right to confidentiality, privacy, and free and informed consent. Doctors also can’t refuse to treat someone just because they’re HIV-positive.
Some people may have heard that doctors or other healthcare workers can disclose things like a patients’ HIV diagnosis without their consent. It’s important to know that this isn’t true. No healthcare worker has the right to disclose a patients’ HIV status without that patients’ written consent. This also goes for other STIs, and any other health condition. If they do, the patient can legally require them to stop.
People living with HIV also aren’t required to disclose their status to healthcare professionals. That’s because healthcare professionals in Quebec are required to take the same precautionary measures with everyone, regardless of their HIV status. It can be a good idea to tell healthcare providers if you’re HIV-positive, to make sure that you get care that takes your needs into account. But, you’re not obligated to if you don’t feel comfortable! For more about HIV and patient rights, check out COCQ-SIDA.