Gynaecologists are doctors who specialize in gynaecology, which is a medical specialty concerning the health of organs such as the vagina, vulva, ovaries, and uterus. Most people have experiences and beliefs related to their gynecological health that can impact their comfort when visiting a gynaecologist. Many patients with gynaecological health issues feel vulnerable because of the intimate and personal nature of their issues. Those who have survived sexual trauma may be particularly worried about their safety during appointments.
Going to a gynaecology appointment at any stage of your life can be overwhelming. You may be hesitant to ask questions, and you may feel uncomfortable voicing your opinion about your care. However, you play a crucial role in directing your care. You have rights that ensure that you receive appropriate care for your health needs. Knowing your rights as a patient is an important step to taking charge of your health!
In Canada, patient rights often vary by institution, province and/or territory. Ask your local clinic or medical centre about policies outlining your rights as a patient receiving care at their centre. Each province and territory has its own unique documented patient rights, highlighted by the following legal acts.
Click on each to learn more:
The following rights would be useful to know for your future gynaecology appointments:
1. Right to receive reasonable and timely care
You have the right to receive care that is appropriate for the nature of your medical complaint.
2. Right to communication
During your gynaecology appointment, this could look like having access to an interpreter or interpreting services via phone or apps if you do not speak or understand the predominant language. As part of culturally-sensitive care, several hospitals and medical centres also offer Indigenous Patient Navigator programs to make the healthcare experience more comfortable for their Indigenous patients. If you need further assistance, patient navigator programs are also offered in many languages to connect you with the right care providers and access appropriate therapies 1.
3. Right to receive health services without discrimination, and to be treated with dignity and respect
You should not face discrimination, oppression, disrespect, or bullying while receiving healthcare, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, or other aspects of your identity. This could include how you are talked to and about by care provider(s), how you are treated when being examined, the safety and accessibility of the clinic/centre and more. Your care providers’ language and behaviour should also be respectful. For instance, if your medical concern is related to your sexual health, your sexuality should be discussed in a professional and appropriate manner. You should also be given privacy when being spoken to about your gynaecological issue and when being examined.
4. Right to privacy and confidentiality
All of your personal health information, including your name, date of birth, medical care received, or test results are strictly confidential. This information can only be shared with people actively involved in your medical care and people you have consented to share this information with, such as a partner or family member or others. The only exceptions are in cases involving mandatory reporting 2.
During a gynaecology appointment, the most common reason for information-sharing would be a reportable disease (e.g. sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), like gonorrhea, chlamydia, hepatitis). These STIs are reportable to your local Public Health Unit to track infection trends and contact people who may be at risk for infection. Talk to your care provider if you have any concerns or questions about this process.
5. Right to receive information about any proposed treatment or procedure
A well-informed patient is at the heart of shared decision-making. Your doctor must share all the information about any proposed treatment(s) that you need to make an informed decision. This can include the way it works, its benefits and risks, any available alternatives during a gynaecology appointment (including not having any treatment at all). This also means that your physician cannot withhold information about potentially controversial topics, such as abortion counselling or tubal ligation.
6. Right to refuse any proposed treatment or procedure
To proceed with any treatment or procedure, your gynecologist must obtain your informed consent. Your consent must be given voluntarily and can be withdrawn at any time. As a patient, you (or your legally authorized representative) also have the right to refuse any proposed medical treatment or procedure. In such cases, your gynaecologist must inform you of how your condition may progress without the treatment/procedure and ensure that your decision is respected.
7. Right to a second opinion
When making tough health care decisions, you may find it helpful to talk to another professional. You can do this at any time during your diagnosis or treatment. You may be uncomfortable with your current healthcare plan and seek alternative management, or you may be looking to confirm your diagnosis and validate your treatment options. It is important you feel confident in your medical decisions. Your treating gynaecologist can help refer you to another professional for a second opinion.
If you believe that your rights are being violated, here are some steps we suggest you take:
Document all details of your interaction.
Contact a patient advocate or ombudsperson (check your clinic or medical centre for details) or patient advocacy organizations, such as the Canadian Patient Safety Institute.
If you believe your healthcare provider behaved inappropriately, contact the Canadian Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario or similar professional organizations in your region.
Seek support from reliable and trusted sources. Negative healthcare interactions can be very distressing, and you may benefit from increased support from loved ones and professionals.
Authors | Nilita Sood, Adanna Odunze, Chalani Ranasinghe (Gynecological Health Portfolio)
- Walkinshaw E. 2011. Patient navigators becoming the norm in Canada. CMAJ 183 (15) E1109-10. DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.109-3974.
- College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario. Policy: Mandatory and Permissive Reporting. Toronto: CPSO. 2017. Available online at https://www.cpso.on.ca/Physicians/Policies-Guidance/Policies/Mandatory-and-Permissive-Reporting. Accessed 28 January, 2021.