New Speak Up campaign focuses on patients’ rights

The Joint Commission launched a new Speak Up campaign focusing on patients’ rights in November 2019. Speak Up For Your Rights aims to educate patients and their advocates about their rights before, during, and after receiving care. From a surgical perspective, helping patients know their rights can be beneficial to the patient and the surgical team.

Speak Up encourages patients to be their own advocates and to engage in the following activities:

  • Speak up
  • Pay attention
  • Educate yourself
  • Advocates (family members and friends) can help
  • Know about your new medicine
  • Use a quality health care organization
  • Participate in all decisions about your care

The Speak Up For Your Rights campaign features an infographic—in both English and Spanish, and in three different sizes (8.5 x 11˝, 11 x 17˝, and 24 x 36˝). The campaign also features an animated video (also available in both English and Spanish).

Patients need to know their rights

Those patients who are aware of their rights are better prepared to ask the right questions, helping them make informed decisions about the care and treatments that are right for them.

For patients, understanding their rights is key to ensuring they receive the best possible care. Those patients who are aware of their rights are better prepared to ask the right questions, helping them make informed decisions about the care and treatments that are right for them. As such, by informing patients of their rights, providers can help confirm that more patients are satisfied with their care.

The Speak Up For Your Rights infographic explains patient rights, including the following:

  • Being informed and making decisions about their care
  • Being treated with courtesy and respect
  • Having a patient advocate with them during their care
  • Privacy of their health information
  • Speaking to a patient representative about their rights

Meanwhile, the Speak Up For Your Rights video provides an example of a patient and her advocates navigating the emergency room. In the video, parents Grant and Manuel seek care for their daughter after she breaks her wrist. As their daughter receives care, Grant and Manuel learn about their daughter’s rights as a patient, including their right to have an interpreter present and receive copies of their daughter’s medical records.

The Speak Up For Your Rights campaign also encourages patients to actively participate in their care. Active engagement includes asking questions about diagnoses, medicines, and treatments—as well as informing caregivers about medicines, allergies, and lifesaving actions, such as being put on a ventilator. Additionally, the campaign explains how advocates can help a patient seek the best care and how patients can improve care or report concerns if they believe their rights as patients were violated.

Examples of questions patients should ask their surgeons include the following:

  • How many operations of this type have you performed?
  • Who will be involved in my care?
  • Will you be performing my operation, or will an assistant be doing it? If an assistant is performing part (or all) of my operation, will you be present, or will you be scrubbed?
  • Will you be doing another operation that overlaps with mine?
  • Who do I call if I have pain within the first three days after the operation?
  • Are you easy to contact at night? If not, is the person I speak to authorized to prescribe pain medicines, or will he or she have to contact you in the morning?
  • Should I get a second opinion?
  • Will I see you before and after the operation, or will your assistants see me?
  • Other key conversations that surgeons should consider having to help patients understand their rights while receiving care in the surgical setting include the following:
  • Provide information regarding the diagnosis for which this operation is indicated, the type of operation indicated, and the overall prognosis
  • Receive thorough informed consent—by discussing alternative treatments, expected benefits of the operation, and the main risks of the procedure
  • Discuss how a patient can get involved in his or her own care
  • Explain that patients have the right to refuse treatment
  • Determine advance directives
  • Describe postoperative care, rehabilitation, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and infection control plans
  • Note that patients have the right to receive safe, quality care—free of abuse
  • Explain how the time-out process works, its purpose, and what is expected of the patient during the time out

The Speak Up program originally was created in 2002. Since then, program materials have been used in more than 70 countries. Download Speak Up For Your Rights now.


The thoughts and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Dr. Pellegrini and do not necessarily reflect those of The Joint Commission or the American College of Surgeons.

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