Patient abandonment is a specific form of medical malpractice that can occur when a doctor or other health care provider ends the doctor-patient relationship:
In this article, we'll define patient abandonment, explore scenarios that could qualify as patient abandonment, and discuss this concept in the context of a medical malpractice lawsuit.
Whether or not patient abandonment has occurred is a very fact-specific issue, and a doctor's potential legal liability can vary from state to state. But there are certain common elements that typically must exist in order for patient abandonment to rise to the level of medical malpractice:
The last element we laid out in the section above (injury to the patient) is often a crucial consideration when answering this question.
Let's say it's fairly clear that your doctor or other health care provider's conduct fell below accepted standards of medical care, and there's a good case for patient abandonment. If that mistake didn't cause you any significant harm (it didn't worsen an existing health problem or lead to any new ones, for example) it might not be worth it to bring a medical malpractice lawsuit.
On the other hand, let's say the defendant's management of your care left you unable to get prompt and necessary treatment, which ended up seriously jeopardizing your health and leading to extensive emergency intervention. In that situation, the health care provider's mistake was a costly one in terms of additional medical care and "pain and suffering," and it might make sense to pursue a medical malpractice case.
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There are many real-world situations in which a doctor might terminate a relationship with a patient without a reasonable excuse.
For example, if a doctor intentionally refuses to treat a patient who has failed to pay his or her medical bill, that is often considered unjustified. And if a doctor is unavailable for an unreasonable amount of time when a patient needs medical care (and so is the backup or "on call" doctor) that could amount to patient abandonment if the patient ends up suffering harm as a result.
It should be noted that patient abandonment can also occur between other kinds of health care providers and the patient—not just between the physician and the patient. For example, if a nurse-patient relationship has been established, and the same legal elements we discussed above are present, then the patient may have a valid medical malpractice claim based on patient abandonment.
Patient abandonment can also occur when:
Not every situation where a doctor stops treating a patient leads to an actionable claim for medical malpractice. Most don't, in fact.
Valid reasons to end a doctor-patient relationship include:
If a valid reason exists, then the physician can take steps to terminate the relationship in an appropriate manner, and attempt to avoid liability. That means, the physician should:
Understanding how patient abandonment is defined is important if you're considering taking legal action over a health care provider's failure to properly manage your car. But if you've read this far and you think you have a valid medical malpractice case, it might make sense to discuss your situation with a legal professional.
Medical malpractice lawsuits are complicated on a number of fronts: from analyzing complex medical and legal issues to navigating special court rules for filing these kinds of cases. Your lawyer will have the expertise and experience to put your best claim together, often with the assistance of a skilled medical expert or two.
Learn more about working with a medical malpractice lawyer.