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Patient rights and responsibilities

Patients have certain rights and responsibilities when accessing health care in Australia. Knowing your health care rights and responsibilities – and understanding how you can play an active role in your health care – can help you get the best possible outcomes.

Answers to some key questions about health care rights are below.

What are health care rights?

The Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights sets out 7 key rights for people receiving health care.

You have a right to access, safety, respect, partnership, information, privacy, and to give feedback. These rights apply to everyone receiving health care in Australia.

Below is a summary of the 7 rights included in the charter and how they may contribute to the quality of health care your receive.

Access – You have a right to access health services and treatments that meet your needs. If you have a current Medicare card and are treated in a public hospital as a public patient, you have a right to access care at little or no cost.

Safety – You have a right to receive high-quality, evidence-based care in an environment that is safe. If you are worried that something has been overlooked, talk with your health care provider and ask for a clinical review. This means that your condition and the treatment you are receiving is checked. If required, you should receive instructions about how to safely care for yourself at home.

Respect – You have a right to be treated as an individual, and with dignity and respect. You also have a right to have your culture, identity, beliefs and choices recognised and respected.

Partnership – You have a right to ask questions and make decisions about your treatment and care in partnership with your health care team. For example, you have the right to accept or refuse any treatment you are offered, and to decide whether to take part in clinical trials. You have the right to include family members and carers in your decision-making and meetings with doctors.

Information – You have a right to receive clear information about your health and the possible benefits and risks of different tests and treatments, so you can give informed consent. You have the right to receive information about the costs of tests and treatments and wait times. You can ask  questions if you need more information. If English is not your first language, you can request interpreter services, which may be free. If something goes wrong, you should be told about it and what is being done to fix it. You have the right to obtain a second opinion and to gain access to your own health information.

Privacy – You have a right to privacy. Your personal and health information must be kept private, secure and confidential (except in limited  circumstances). This includes discussions with health care providers, and your written and online medical records.

Give feedback – You have a right to give feedback or make a complaint, and for any concerns to be dealt with fairly and in a timely way.

In addition to the Australian Charter of Healthcare Rights, The Private Patients’ Hospital Charter sets out the rights and responsibilities of private patients in public and private hospitals and day procedure centres.

Why are rights important?

Knowing your rights and what you can reasonably expect from your treatment team and health care services will help you to better understand the health system and take an active role in your care.

It’s important that you feel comfortable to ask questions and get the support you need.

Health care that responds to your needs, preferences and values, as well as the needs of your family and carers, is known as person-centred care. This means that your health care providers will respect your care goals, and involve you as an equal partner when planning your treatment and ongoing care. Working in partnership to make joint decisions about your care can lead to better outcomes.


How are health care rights protected?

Everyone who works in a health service is responsible for upholding health care rights. This helps people receive safe, high-quality and person-centred care.

Some rights are legally protected. There are laws covering discrimination, medical treatment, the conduct of health professionals and hospital services, and the privacy of personal information. Health professionals and health care services must comply with these laws.

Other health care rights reflect fair and reasonable expectations for care. For example, you may want a second opinion if you’re unsure about the treatment a doctor has recommended. It is reasonable to expect that your doctor will refer you to another specialist and share your test results with that person. Many doctors openly encourage second opinions and help their patients to obtain them. However, there is no law that says they have to. If your doctor is not helpful in seeking a second opinion, you can find one in other ways.

Is discrimination unlawful?

In Australia, it is generally unlawful for health services to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, race, sex, intersex status, gender identity and sexual orientation.

What are patient responsibilities?

Health professionals understand that dealing with cancer is challenging and many people feel vulnerable at this time. Developing an open and trusting relationship with your health care team during this time is important. If you expect your health care providers to behave in a certain way – for example, to communicate openly – it helps to behave the same way in return. Many hospitals and treatment centres have guidelines on patient responsibilities that cover the following 3 areas.

Being considerate
These responsibilities relate to practical issues, including:

  • treating staff and other patients with courtesy and respect
  • being on time for appointments or letting the health care provider know if you are unable to attend an appointment
  • following any policies of your health service, such as visiting hours, using mobile phones, smoke-free areas, etc.
  • seeking permission if you would like to record consultations.

Being honest and open
A key responsibility is to make sure your health care team has all the information they need to offer the best treatment for you. Tell your health care team if:

  • you have a question or problem – it’s important that you talk about issues you don’t understand or that are troubling you so your team can help. If English is not your first language, you can ask for an interpreter
  • there are factors in your life that might affect treatment decisions – for example, if you live alone or care for a young family
  • you have side effects or pain – your team may be able to adjust the treatment or offer you medicine to relieve side effects
  • you’re seeing more than one doctor or another health professional (including complementary or alternative therapy practitioners) for any part of your care
  • you decide not to follow their advice – for example, by not taking the prescribed medicine or having certain tests
  • you are taking any other medicines (including over-the-counter drugs, complementary and alternative medicines, and bush medicines). Some medicines interact with cancer drugs, and this can cause side effects or reduce a treatment’s effectiveness.

Being flexible
Your doctor recommends treatment based on your initial test results and your overall health. Depending on how you respond to treatment, your doctor may have to adjust the agreed treatment plan. It’s important to be flexible and understand that your treatment may change over time. If changes occur, you still have the right to be involved as an equal partner when deciding on a new treatment plan.

It’s common to have to wait for tests and treatment in public hospitals. Waiting times depend on many factors, including the type of cancer, its stage, the treatment, and the hospital’s schedule. Hospitals aim to provide care to people in turn but without waiting for periods of time that would harm treatment outcomes. Waiting for treatment can be stressful – if you are anxious, speak to your doctor or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

How does the Australian health care system work?

Understanding how the health system works can help you find care that works best for you.

Public hospitals

Image of a hospital

  • Funded by governments.
  • If you are admitted as a public patient, medical care is free (although there may be a cost for some medicines).
  • Often have a wider range of services than private hospitals.
  • May also have some private services, such as imaging and pathology.
  • You will not be able to choose your doctor and there may be a wait for some services.
  • If admitted as a private patient, some costs may be covered by your private health insurance, but there are likely to be out-of-pocket costs.

Private hospitals

Image of a medical facility

  • Run by private organisations.
  • Treatment may be partly covered by Medicare and private health insurance.
  • You will have to pay part of the cost for medical services (gap payment).
  • May be additional costs for accommodation, operating theatres and medicines.
  • You will be able to choose your doctor.
  • Waiting times for some health services may be shorter than in a public hospital.

Non-hospital care

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  • Mostly private, though some public services.
  • If you visit a doctor outside a hospital, Medicare will pay 100% of the schedule fee for general practitioner (GP) visits and 85% for specialist visits, and approved imaging scans and blood tests.
  • Many health providers charge more than the schedule fee and you will have to pay the difference. Ask how much you will have to pay when making an appointment.
  • Private health insurance does not cover out-of-hospital medical service costs, which are covered by Medicare.


Image of card

  • Funded by Australian taxpayers.
  • Covers the cost of treatment in public hospitals, and partly covers doctors’ fees for some services in private hospitals.
  • Helps to cover part of the cost of visits to GPs and specialists.
  • Once you have spent a certain amount on medical services, your benefits may increase (Medicare Safety Nets).
  • Sometimes, health professionals accept the Medicare benefit as full payment for a service (bulk-billing).

Private health insurance

Image of umbrella and medical symbol

  • You may choose to pay for private health insurance.
  • If you have hospital cover, it will cover part of the cost of your care as a private patient.
  • You will usually also have costs you have to pay yourself.
  • If you have extras cover, it may help with the cost of allied health care such as physiotherapy.

Gap payments

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  • Medical costs are often higher than the amounts covered by Medicare and private health insurance.
  • The difference between these amounts is called a gap payment or out-of-pocket cost and you will have to pay this. Check with your health care team what your gap payments will be.


Image of a pill and pill bottle

  • Funded by the Australian Government, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) covers part of the cost of medicines.
  • Once you have spent a certain amount of money on medicines, your medicines are free or the cost is further reduced (the PBS Safety Net).

Featured resource

Cancer Care and Your Rights

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed May 2023 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Sarah Lewis, Faculty of Medicine and Health, The University of Sydney, NSW; Kevin Bloom, Senior Social Worker, Haematology and Bone Marrow Transplant, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Danielle Curnoe, Consumer; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant – Gastro-Intestinal Cancers, Cancer Services, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Hall & Wilcox (law firm); Johanna Jordaan, Consumer; Dr Deme Karikios, Medical Oncologist, Nepean Cancer and Wellness Centre, Nepean Hospital, NSW; Melissa Lawrie, Breast Cancer Clinical Nurse, Cancer Services, Gold Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Jacqueline Lesage, Consumer Reviewer, Cancer Voices NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer, VIC; Louise Pellerade, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Andrew Potter, Consumer; Siân Slade, PhD Candidate, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Non-Executive Director (health, disability sectors), VIC; Paula Watt, Clinical Psychologist, WOMEN Centre, WA.

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