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Know your healthcare rights? Survey reveals gap in understanding

Healthcare infographic
11th May 2016
  • Most people don’t understand key healthcare principals designed to protect them and improve their experience
  • Majority are concerned that medical professionals are too stretched to ensure patients are fully informed
  • 82% are not confident challenging a medical professional’s advice and yet 40% believe that medical errors happen frequently

New research by law firm Your Legal Friend has found that almost two thirds of Britons (64%) do not fully understand their right to make an informed choice when receiving medical treatment, whilst almost a quarter (22%) admit they are not aware of the right at all.

The ‘Healthcare & you:An informed choice?’report examines the UK population’s understanding of informed consent - an ethical principal that ensures patients receive all relevant information regarding their diagnosis and treatment options before they agree to proceed.

The survey revealed over half of people (56%) think that medical professionals simply don’t have the time available to make sure patients are fully informed, rising to 64% for those who have received treatment from a GP during the last 12 months.

It also found that around a third of people (34%) felt that the medical professional they most recently discussed their condition with didn’t know them well enough to make the best recommendation.

The report demonstrates that, while a significant proportion of the population (42%) believe that medical errors happen frequently, 82% of those questioned admitted they would not be completely confident challenging a medical professional’s recommended treatment.

Laura Morgan, Head of Clinical Negligence at Your Legal Friend, said: “The report’s findings reveal a concerning gap in public awareness of patients’ rights and responsibilities.

“By understanding the importance of giving informed consent, patients could be helping healthcare professionals to avoid errors occurring in both diagnosis and treatment.

“The UK healthcare system has principles in place to protect patients and provide choice, so people should not be afraid to ask questions, take time to understand their situation and have the confidence to challenge medical professionals if they feel in any way uncomfortable.

“It’s our hope that the findings of the surveyencourage people to take a more active role in their healthcare. By making sure we have all of the information we need when choosing treatment, we can all play a part in improving the standard of care in the UK.”

Your Legal Friend’s research also found that, despite significant investment in increasing transparency and patient choice, many people are not exercising these rights.

Nearly half (49%) of people questioned said they were happy to accept their recommended hospital and consultant without conducting any research.

A significant proportion of people (39%) were not aware they had the right to choose the consultant and hospital which provides their treatment.

The findings from the ‘Healthcare & you:An informed choice?’report are based on arepresentative survey sample of 2,000 UK residents. Other key findings from the report include:

  • There is a small minority (4.5%) of people who do not trust healthcare professionals at all to make the right treatment recommendations for them. 
  • 31% of men said they implicitly trust healthcare professionals to make the right treatment recommendations for them, compared to 21% of women.
  • 20% of people would make no effort to research their condition or treatment. 
  • 73% of women will research their condition online compared to just 63% of men.
  • Only 10% of people would turn to independent websites and forums as trusted sources of information.
  • Just 2% said they would trust information they found on social media sites such as Facebook.

The report also includes the following advice to patients:

  • Before your appointment: Write down details of your symptoms, such as how often they occur, when you first noticed them, and if you’ve noticed anything else that affects them.
  • Ask as many questions as you need: Write down the most important questions you have and bring them with you to appointments. When offered treatment, ask what alternatives exist and don’t be afraid to keep asking questions if you need to. If you’re not confident on your own, consider taking a close friend or family member with you.
  • Take notes: Write down what your doctor says and ask for words or concepts you’re not familiar with to be written down and explained. Ensure you have a note of the timescales of follow-up appointments, treatments and when to expect test results.
  • Challenge: Don’t be afraid to speak up if you need more information or time to discuss things. If you’re concerned that medical staff don’t fully understand your situation, let them know.
  • Choose: Remember, you have the right to choose the consultant and the hospital you receive treatment from.
  • Research: Request sources of reliable information regarding your condition and the treatments available so you can learn more in your own time. There may also be relevant groups or charities you can contact for further information. 

Your Legal Friend is one of the UK's leading litigation firms, offering a range of legal services and advice to the victims of personal injury and negligence. It is part of 2020 Legal Limited, which also trades as Camps Solicitors.

As a whole, 2020 Legal Limited has over 30 years' experience working with the victims of non-fault claims and accidents, handling thousands of cases every year.