The Issue Of Dignity In Healthcare

health doctor's office

At some point or another, each of us is going to need to receive some healthcare. It might be tomorrow, or it might be in twenty years. But whenever it happens, it will happen. And when that time comes, as a patient you are going to want a number of things. Swift treatment is probably one of the top concerns you will have, along with a doctor who is understanding and thorough. But there’s one word that is always going to be hugely relevant in any discussion of healthcare: dignity. The question here is: what does dignity in healthcare actually look like?

Your Rights

To begin, one of the most basic aspects of ensuring dignity in healthcare is to make sure that your rights are being respected. You have a number of rights which are relevant, no matter what kind of treatment or consultation you are undergoing. You have the right to informed consent, which means that those looking after you have to make it clear what your options are, along with any potential downsides, side effects or outcomes, including those related to not taking the treatment. They have to make you aware that there are other alternative treatments available when that is the case. And they have to allow you the right to refusal, meaning that if you don’t want any particular treatment, you don’t have to have it.

In practice, this might be challenging. It might be that a doctor tries repeatedly to encourage you to try a particular medication or treatment that you are not keen on. They are within their rights to try that, but ultimately the decision is down to you. Sometimes it is necessary to have in writing what you do and do not want to be done to you – for instance, if there is a chance that you are going to be incapacitated and thus unable to explain what you want, you might need to look at and write what is known as a Living Will detailing exactly that.

As long as your rights are respected, you will probably feel much more that your dignity is respected too.


More often than not, the issue of dignity is bound up tightly with that of respect. You can see more on this at A patient needs to feel respected by the people that are caring for them. If this is not achieved, it can easily lead to some severe problems, and absolutely will result in the patient not feeling dignified in the way they would want to. Respect can be as simple as using the right tone of voice, the right words, and ensuring that the patient is being listened to fully. It is an implicit thing, the kind of thing that you know is not there by the atmosphere in the room. If respect is lacking, everyone in the area knows it, and it leads to a worsening in care.


That issue of respect is closely related to the issue of communication. There needs to be a strong line of communication between the patient and all the medical staff around them. Without this, it is much less likely that the individual in question will feel all that respected or that their dignity is being respected. Good communication has a way of breaking through all else, in such a way that can encourage the best practices we are all hoping for when we receive medical treatment.

Personal Space & Possessions

In cases where the individual has to be in care for an extended period of time, other concerns begin to come into play. Notably, it suddenly becomes much more important than their personal space is respected, as any of us would feel that this would be important is we were in long-term care. Similarly, the patient should have their possessions around them and should have a place to store them where they won’t be touched, removed or otherwise disturbed by anyone. This simple little thing really goes a long way towards making the patient feel much more dignified.

Tackling Discrimination

Unfortunately, discrimination is still a monumental concern in our society, and it’s something that we each need to work hard to stamp out. Tackling discrimination in healthcare settings means that all patients need to be treated equally, regardless of incidental facts about their sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, ancestry, or whatever else. Of course, this goes both ways, and we would hope that patients are also going to treat doctors and nurses in the same fashion.

With the above, we can see that there are many concerns to think about when it comes to dignity in healthcare.

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