Patient Abandonment

A doctor’s abandonment of a patient who is in need of care can give rise to a medical malpractice lawsuit. This article discusses the applicable laws, as well as how patients must prove their medical malpractice cases when they have been harmed by a doctor’s failure to treat.

Abandonment in Emergency Situations

If a patient arrives at a hospital in the midst of an emergency health issue, federal law requires the hospital to treat the patient, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay and other factors such as the patient’s citizenship or immigration status. This law is called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act.

According to the act, when the patient arrives at the ER or urgent care center, the hospital must determine whether the patient’s condition constitutes an emergency. If it does, the hospital must make all reasonable efforts to stabilize the patient. If a hospital fails to comply with the act, the patient may sue the hospital for both the monetary equivalent of the harm caused by the failure, and for an additional penalty of up to $50,000…

Transfer Without Proper Instruction

Once a doctor initiates treatment of a patient, the doctor must not only terminate care at a proper time, but also in a proper manner. If a doctor transfers a patient to the care of a second doctor, the second doctor may not be familiar with crucial details of a patient’s care. So, the first doctor has an ongoing obligation to provide the second doctor with proper instructions and all relevant records (treatment notes, test results, etc.). Failure to do so could rise to the level of medical malpractice.

Patient’s Failure to Pay

A doctor cannot terminate care of a patient when the patient is at a critical stage of treatment, solely because the patient is unable to pay for the care. However, if the patient is in a stable condition and is given ample warning of the termination, a doctor may be able to stop treatment. For example, in a 1989 case in Iowa called Surgical Consultants, P.C. v. Ball, a patient had gastric bypass surgery and suffered abscesses afterwards. She sought treatment from the operating physician, who saw her 11 times post-surgery but then refused to continue seeing her because she had not paid her bill. This was not considered abandonment because the patient was not considered to be at a critical stage of treatment…

When physicians fire patients: avoiding patient “abandonment” lawsuits. (Nov. 2009)

While patients have the unfettered ability to fire their physicians at any time, physicians can end their relationships with patients only after giving them reasonable notice and an opportunity to find another physician. Physicians who fail to take these steps may expose themselves to lawsuits for the tort of “patient abandonment.” This article examines what circumstances may lead to a cause of action for the tort of”patient abandonment” under Oklahoma law. In addition, this article discusses the American Medical Association’s (AMA) guidelines on terminating the physician-patient relationship and recommended practices by legal scholars.

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