From the Editor's Desk

Martin B Van Der Weyden
Med J Aust 2002; 177 (3): 121. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2002.tb04691.x
Published online: 5 August 2002


Consumerism and “rights talk” have transformed our society. This change is no more evident than in the doctor–patient relationship, which has developed from a largely paternalistic association into a partnership respecting the autonomy and rights of the patient.

These rights include the right to full information and to make informed decisions; the right to determine or refuse treatments; and the rights to confidentiality, courtesy, respect and responsive services.

But has consumerism swung the rights pendulum too far? Carolyn Wilson, a Canadian legal scholar, in her essay, Seeking a balance: patient responsibilities in institutional health care, notes that “Rights talk for patients is alive and well . . .”, but “duties talk is sadly missing, especially when it comes to their application to patients.”

With patient autonomy come patient responsibilities. Logically, these should be at the core of a health consumer’s code of conduct. Patient responsibilities, as advanced by Wilson, include

  • maintaining a healthy lifestyle;

  • being honest in disclosing health information and medications being taken;

  • compliance with agreed therapy and follow-up;

  • taking responsibility for decisions about and the consequences of non-compliance;

  • raising doubts and asking questions;

  • and maintaining a stable and long term association with the treating doctor.

For too long the rights talk of health consumerism has concentrated on the consumer, and it is time for a new focus. We should recognise patients’ responsibilities as well as their rights.

  • Martin B Van Der Weyden

  • The Medical Journal of Australia



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