Ever since the American Hospital Association created its first Patient Bill of Rights in the early 1970s, medical centers, professional associations and states have been adapting it or creating their own. They are featured on websites and included in admissions packets, and adorn hospital walls.
But most of these documents are relics, responding to the concerns of a bygone era, like the right to "understandable information concerning diagnosis, treatment and prognosis" and to "a smoke-free environment." (Smoking has been forbidden in accredited hospitals for more than 25 years.)
If the cost of treatment is mentioned at all, it often squeaks in at the bottom. Consider how Johns Hopkins puts it: The patient has the right to "ask for an estimate of hospital charges before care is provided." Note: not to receive one.
Today patients' worries are financial as much as medical. Twenty percent of people with insurance say they have trouble paying their medical bills, a figure that rises to above 50 percent for the uninsured. In an era when patients are told to be better consumers of health care, they need a Financial Bill of Rights, too.