"It's like asking for a necktie when you don't have underwear": discourses on patient rights in southern Karnataka, India

Meena Putturaj, Sara Van Belle, Anja Krumeich, N.S. Prashanth, Nora Engel

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BACKGROUND: Ensuring patient rights is an extension of applying human rights principles to health care. A critical examination of how the notion of patient rights is perceived and enacted by various actors through critical discourse analysis (CDA) can help understand the impediments to its realization in practice.

METHODS: We studied the discourses and discursive practices on patient rights in subnational policies and in ten health facilities in southern Karnataka, India. We conducted interviews (78), focus group discussions (3) with care-seeking individuals, care-providers, health care administrators and public health officials. We also conducted participant observation in selected health facilities and examined subnational policy documents of Karnataka pertaining to patient rights. We analyzed the qualitative data for major and minor themes.

RESULTS: Patient rights discourses were not based upon human rights notions. In the context of neoliberalism, they were predominantly embedded within the logic of quality of care, economic, and consumerist perspectives. Relatively powerful actors such as care-providers and health facility administrators used a panoply of discursive strategies such as emphasizing alternate discourses and controlling discursive resources to suppress the promotion of patient rights among care-seeking individuals in health facilities. As a result, the capacity of care-seeking individuals to know and claim patient rights was restricted. With neoliberal health policies promoting austerity measures on public health care system and weak implementation of health care regulations, patient rights discourses remained subdued in health facilities in Karnataka, India.

CONCLUSIONS: The empirical findings on the local expression of patient rights in the discourses allowed for theoretical insights on the translation of conceptual understandings of patient rights to practice in the everyday lives of health system actors and care-seeking individuals. The CDA approach was helpful to identify the problematic aspects of discourses and discursive practices on patient rights where health facility administrators and care-providers wielded power to oppress care-seeking individuals. From the practical point of view, the study demonstrated the limitations of care-seeking individuals in the discursive realms to assert their agency as practitioners of (patient) rights in health facilities.

Translated title of the contribution "Het is alsof je om een ​​stropdas vraagt ​​als je geen ondergoed hebt": Discours over patiëntenrechten in Karnataka, India
Original languageEnglish
Article number47
JournalInternational Journal for Equity in Health
Issue number47
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Focus Groups
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • India
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Patient Rights


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