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Patient Abandonment Laws

There are times when a physician terminates a doctor-patient relationship, and the patient may wonder if they have been abandoned or if they have a patient abandonment case. Most patients may not understand exactly what patient abandonment is and how to know if they have a legitimate case. Below are questions that have been asked regarding patient abandonment laws that have been answered by the Experts.

What is patient abandonment?

Patient abandonment is when a professional healthcare worker such as a nurse, physician, or paramedic, has started emergency treatment of a patient and then just walks away from the patient still needs assistance without obtaining a substitute that is adequate or allowing the patient time to find an adequate substitute. The act of patient abandonment is a crime and in many countries can carry a penalty of loss of licensure to practice. Due to public policy being to try to keep a patient alive, it makes it impossible for the professional to use a defense the patient not be able to pay for services rendered, which opens the professional to possibly being liable beyond their what their malpractice insurance covers

Are there more one type of patient abandonment?

Yes there are two different types of patient abandonment legally; there is intentional and inadvertent abandonment. Intentional abandonment is legally more risky than inadvertent abandonment since often a jury will also award punitive damages for putting a patient at risk. One of the most common reasons for intentional abandonment is for patient non-payment. Inadvertent most commonly happens when a physician has not arranged for backup coverage, or that back up coverage fall through without notice.

If a physician sends a patient a letter terminating the doctor patient relationship, is this considered patient abandonment?

There are no laws that forbid a physician from in essence firing a patient. As long as the physician notifies the patient via certified or regular mailed letter stating that the doctor-patient relationship has been terminated and that the physician will only see the patient on an emergency basis for 30 days, allowing the patient to seek another physician. Often in a letter like this the physician will also offer to send the patient’s medical records to the new physician. However if a patient is receiving treatment from said physician that no other physician can provide or will provide, and the patient may receive sufficient harm from the stopping of treatment, then the patient may be allowed to lodge a legal claim with the court, asking for an injunction that would compel the physician to continue the treatment.

Can a physician serve a doctor-patient relationship due to a patient sexual harassing the physician?

A doctor may sever the doctor-patient relationship due to sexual harassment by a patient. However the physician must go about this the correct way to avoid patient abandonment. The physician will need to send a certified letter to the patient letting them know that the physician will no longer see the patient except for emergencies in the next 30 days. They must also include a referral to another physician, as well as an offer to send over the patient’s medical record to the new physician. If the patient tries to use patient abandonment, the physician will be covered; it will also help if the physician lets the patient know that they will file a complaint on being sexually harassed.

Patient abandonment is legally defined as a medical professional after having started treatment on a patient intentional leaving the patient without finding another adequate provider or allowing the patient to find one. There are two different legal types of patient abandonment: intentional and inadvertent. If a physician terminates a physician-patient relationship the physician must first send the patient a certified letter stating that the relationship has been terminated with a referral to another physician and an offer to transfer the patient’s medical record to the new physician. If an individual has any questions regarding patient abandonment laws they are able to direct their questions to Experts.
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