What Rights Do Family Members and Partners Have in the Hospital?


One of the first questions that arises when you or someone close to you is hospitalized concerns who is permitted to visit the patient and provide support. Laws have changed over the years, so here’s an update on what you can expect during a hospitalization today:

The Patient Is in Control

Since 2011, federal regulations have required any hospital accepting Medicare and Medicaid (which includes almost every hospital) to allow patients to say whom they want as visitors. The patient’s wishes must be respected regardless of gender, sexual orientation or relationship. General hospital rules regarding visiting hours will be enforced, but the enforcement will not discriminate according to relationship.

In addition, if you’re a hospital patient, you may choose someone to act as your advocate. This person is allowed to ask questions, speak to doctors on your behalf and generally become part of your care team.

Health Care Providers May Be Allowed to Decide

Confusion can still arise if you are hospitalized and unable to communicate, and you don’t have any signed documents on file with your physician or PCP. This can be especially problematic if you don’t have a trusted family member who will show up and make medical decisions on your behalf. In the absence of your expressed wishes, state rules vary about who is allowed to make medical decisions for you. This role may be limited to people related to you by legal marriage or blood, depending on your state’s policies.

Furthermore, under the HIPAA Privacy Rule, if you are unable to give consent, providers are allowed to use their judgment regarding whom to share your information with. They are not required to share it with any specific person.

Paperwork Protects Your Rights

If you want to designate an advocate (or two) to have the right to make medical decisions for you in a situation where you aren’t able to speak for yourself, you need to draw up a Medical Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy document ahead of time. You can revoke this document at any time, and it only applies in instances where you are incapacitated. It’s also very helpful to create an Advance Directive, which states the personal health care wishes that you want that proxy to base their decisions on. Rules for these documents differ between states, and you can look up your state’s forms here.

The rules surrounding medical care are complex and shifting, but many of today’s laws work on behalf of supporting the patient’s wishes. Our consumer advocates are always available to help you know your rights regarding health care coverage as well as general health policies.

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