Health consumers have legal rights in Australia. Consent and treatment are particularly important areas where your health-care rights need to be respected. You can take action if you feel that you’ve been denied these rights. This can include making a formal complaint or just talking to your health professional.
Am I a health consumer?
It sounds very formal, but basically if you see any doctors, counsellors or other health workers, you're a health consumer, and you have certain legal rights. But even if you don’t have any specific health-care needs at the moment, you have certain rights and entitlements in case you need emergency medical help.
Your health-care rights include the right to:
- see qualified people and get good care
- be treated with dignity and respect
- have your health details remain confidential, except in certain circumstances (find out more about confidentiality)
- be protected from abuse (mental or physical) or discrimination because of your age, gender, race, family status, sexual orientation or disability
- have access to services that recognise and work with cultural, religious, social and ethnic needs, values and beliefs
- be provided with free emergency treatment at hospitals if you're an Australian citizen
- bring someone you trust to support you during your appointments
- access information about available services.
What can I do if my rights are denied?
If you believe that your rights as a health consumer have been denied, you can:
- talk to the health professional about the problem
- contact the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) in your state
- look for another health professional
- submit a formal complaint to the HCCC.
You can make a complaint if you've had your rights denied or you feel that you’ve received bad care. It’s a good idea to try first to resolve the problem with the health professional involved, but if that’s not possible, talk to a patient representative or the Health Care Complaints Commission in your state. Patient Support Officers at the HCCC can help you sort things out. You can ask a friend or family member to support you as well, by helping you to organise your complaint and communicate your concerns.
Health professionals should always discuss with you any treatments you might need, including any risks involved. Make sure you understand all the information you’ve been given, and that all your questions have been answered, before you make a decision about what treatment you want.
Bring along someone you trust if you need help in understanding the information and advice provided by doctors or health professionals. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about anything you don't understand, and request information you can take away with you (such as pamphlets) or the names of services or websites that can provide additional information.
If you can understand and make your own decisions about your health care, you are able to ‘give consent’.
Normally, you need to give consent for any medical treatment you receive. However, if you’re under 14, you can’t give consent; your parents have to do it for you. From age 14 on, you can seek out and agree to medical treatment on your own, or jointly with your parents. Check out our article on age and confidentiality for more information.
You should be at the centre of any decisions about your health. If you want, your parents can stay with you during consultations or minor operations. If you prefer to have them present, they can’t be refused this unless there’s a good medical or legal reason for it, and you must always be told what that reason is.
Some health decisions are huge, with daunting consequences. You should take all the time you need to make up your mind about a treatment, and talk to whomever you want for advice. A second opinion from another doctor can help you decide what’s best for you.