What is Patient Abandonment, and When Does it Lead to Medical Malpractice?

Patient abandonment is a situation that occurs when a doctor or healthcare professional stops treating a patient – or denies them treatment – without providing sufficient notice or recommending a reasonable alternative source of care. As a result of patient abandonment, the affected person is basically denied necessary medical care and may suffer injury or worse. Abandonment is a type of negligence which may be intentional or inadvertent. If you or a loved one has experienced this situation and medical harm occurred as a result of a doctor’s decision not to treat you, it may be the basis for a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Implied Responsibility and Medical Treatment

While patients and doctors do not sign legal contracts, there’s an implied responsibility between doctors and patients. Once a medical professional consents to accept a patient into their care and provide treatment for a specific condition, they have an ethical – and legal – responsibility toward that patient. Of course, the medical professional may end the relationship at any time. However, if he or she chooses to do so, it’s his or her responsibility to make sure that patient abandonment doesn’t occur.

Typically, three steps are taken. One is to provide an adequate amount of time for a patient to find a new medical provider. A second is to provide resources, such as the names of other doctors accepting patients, who can provide comparable care. Finally, the third is to make sure that patients aren’t harmed or endangered from the termination – including during the transition to another medical provider.

Why Patient Abandonment Occurs

Doctors can choose which patients they work with, according to their ability to adequately treat the patient’s condition. However, it’s unethical and illegal for a medical professional to end a treatment relationship for reasons such as discrimination based on factors like sexual orientation, gender, age, race, disability, and so forth.

Some acceptable reasons for medical professionals terminating the doctor – patient relationship might include:

  • Inadequate skills, equipment, or resources needed to treat a patient’s conditions
  • Patients violate a physician’s written policies or cancel multiple appointments
  • Failure to comply with treatment plan
  • Inappropriate behavior on the part of the patient, like verbally abusing the physician or staff

How Treatments Should Be Handled

When a doctor is terminating treatment – whether it’s as a result of patient behavior or they’re even simply moving offices – it’s important that the following steps are taken:

  • Notifying patients in written form as early as possible;
  • Providing an explanation of why treatment is being terminated;
  • Allowing care coverage for the period it may take to secure treatment from another doctor;
  • Agreeing to share patient records with a new provider if the patient provides authorization;
  • Recommending resources or doctors to help locate other treatment options.

When Malpractice Occurs

If you believe you’ve suffered patient abandonment and it constituted medical malpractice, typically there are three factors which are examined. The first is that you suffered injury as a result of the abandonment. The second is that the abandonment occurred in such a way that you didn’t have the time or support needed to find replacement care. The third is that the abandonment may have taken place at a critical juncture of treatment, when you were still actively in need of medical care.

Contact Rasmussen and Miner today to arrange for a confidential consultation to discuss your situation and learn more about whether you may have the basis of a patient abandonment medical malpractice case.