Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



To change the traditional doctor-patient relationship in the health facility context, one must begin with a complete statement defining the rights, both those legally recognized and those granted as a matter of hospital policy, that should be afforded to all patients. This document should then be made available to all patients and hospital staff and to members of the community in general. Its first purpose is educational. To perform its second purpose-the assurance that rights are afforded--a patient rights advocate system should be adopted in the hospital. The advocate must have the power to exercise, on behalf and at the direction of the patient, all of the patient's rights outlined in the rights document. He should be financially independent of the hospital and accountable only to the patients he is charged with serving. Such a system can be initiated voluntarily by a health care institution, or it can be mandated by a state or federal statute or regulation. Objections to the patient advocate proposal fall into three general categories: (1) there should be no interference with the current doctor-patient relationship; (2) patients' rights are already being protected by all members of the hospital staff; and (3) the entire health care delivery system is fundamentally defective and this "band-aid" approach will serve only to delay inevitable and radical system restructuring. We have demonstrated in this article that the first two arguments are without merit. Before one resorts to the extremes of the third position, experimentation with the patient rights advocate as outlined herein is called for. While certainly no panacea, the advocate could help not only the individual patient but also society and the medical profession in working toward what must be a common goal: ensuring that human rights do not become victims of medical progress.