Do patients have rights? What the laws of Kenya say

A doctor guides her patient through her diagnosis. Patients have rights that are enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya.
A doctor guides a patient through her diagnosis. Patients have rights that they often don't know much about.
Photo credit: Shutterstock

The rights of patients in Kenya are described and protected under the Constitution and the National Patients’ Rights Charter of 2013. However, many patients and their caregivers are unaware of most of these rights, and of the obligations of healthcare providers.

Understanding your rights as a patient can help you access better healthcare or report incidents of professional misconduct.

Dr Elizabeth Wala, a member of the Board of Directors at Ponea Health and a health system strengthening expert, gives professional insight into these listed rights.

Right to access healthcare

Healthcare is a fundamental human rights issue because it is essential to human dignity and well-being. Health is a state of physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Healthcare includes preventive measures against diseases, access to early detection and treatment of illness, and rehabilitative, reproductive and palliative care that respects one's dignity. Everyone has the right to these services regardless of social status, race, gender, or religion.

Right to receive emergency treatment

You have the right to emergency treatment regardless of your ability to pay. This right is enshrined in the Constitution, meaning that no one should be denied emergency medical care based on their financial status.

This right is often controversial because the public does not clearly understand what emergency services entail. Dr. Wala clarifies that under this right, the hospital is obligated to stabilise a patient in need of emergency care. Once stable, the patient will be required to adhere to the hospital's policies. For instance, the hospital may need payments before proceeding with further treatment.

Right to be informed about all the provisions of one's medical scheme or health insurance policy

This provision is particularly important if you have health insurance. It means that insurers cannot deny you coverage or benefits without informing you first. You have the right to know what your policy covers and you can challenge, where necessary, any decision made by your health insurer.

Right to choose a health care provider

You are not forced to go to a particular hospital or doctor. You can choose your preferred healthcare provider as long as their qualifications, registration, and license to practice are considered for one's safety. The limitation to this right is that some facilities may be understaffed. Therefore, one may not get services from their preferred health provider.

Right to the highest attainable quality of health care products and services

You have the right to receive healthcare products and services of the highest possible quality. To this end, you, as the patient, should be informed of all available options.

Right to refuse treatment

You have the right to refuse, withdraw or withhold consent to any medical treatment. On what basis would one wish to withdraw treatment? Dr. Wala explains that a patient may want to decline treatment for religious, cultural, or financial reasons. Others who are terminally ill may opt to avoid aggressive treatment that only prolongs the dying process.

Whatever reason the patient gives for refusing treatment, the decision must be officially documented and recorded in the presence of a witness.

However, healthcare providers will consider factors such as the patient's competency to make an informed decision or if the health condition puts the patient or the public at risk.

Right to privacy and confidentiality

Healthcare providers should not share your patient information without your consent. The only exceptions to this rule are when the disclosure of the information is necessary for public interest or when required by law. Even after the death of a patient, healthcare providers are still bound by confidentiality.

Right to informed consent to treatment

Healthcare providers must give you all the relevant information you need to make decisions about your treatment. This information includes, but is not limited to, the nature of the illness, the proposed diagnostic procedures and treatment, available alternative treatments, and the costs involved. This information should be provided beforehand, and in a language you understand. Once you have been duly informed, you must also be allowed to make the decision willingly and free from coercion.

This right may not apply in emergencies.

Right to information

The Constitution protects patients' right to complete and accurate information about their health and healthcare. Healthcare providers, therefore, have a duty to give you all the information about your health and allow you to access the said information at will.

Right to be treated with respect and dignity

You have the right to be treated fairly, with compassion and kindness. Your beliefs and values must be respected even when they affect your responses to proposed care and treatment.

Right to a second medical opinion

You may seek a second opinion from another healthcare provider if you are unsatisfied with the first.

Right to complain

You have the right to lodge a complaint if you feel your rights have been infringed. The incident may be reported to the hospital management or the relevant government agency or professional bodies. The reports must be investigated, and appropriate action taken within a reasonable time.

Right to insurance coverage without discrimination on the basis of age, pregnancy, disability, or illnesses, including mental disorders

Any insurance provider that discriminates against a patient based on the above factors may be reported to the relevant authorities and appropriate action taken.

Right to donate his or her organs and/or any other arrangements/wishes upon one's demise

You have the right to spell out, in written notice, your desire to donate viable organs after your demise. The organs can be donated for transplant or scientific research.

A person may also communicate how they wish their corpse to be disposed of, i.e., burial, cremation, or donated to research.