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Patient abandonment and medical malpractice

What happens when your doctor leaves you in the lurch? Patients rely on their doctors for a certain continuity of care -- when the doctor suddenly leaves a patient without adequate medical care and no time to seek a replacement, that's a form of malpractice known as abandonment.

You don't generally have the right to demand treatment from a doctor -- and you can legitimately be dismissed from a practice if the doctor doesn't want to treat you for some reason (so long as you are given appropriate notice and enough time to seek alternative care). However, once a doctor begins treating you, he or she has an ethical and legal obligation to continue -- at least until your current medical crisis is over.

Abandonment can take a number of different forms:

  • An emergency room doctor leaves at the end of his or her shift without passing a patient on to another doctor with all the information the doctor needs to provide adequate care
  • A patient is discharged from an emergency room or hospital despite needing immediate care
  • A patient makes a critical care request from his or her primary care doctor and the request is ignored
  • The doctor cancels a patient's appointment when he or she needs critical medication or care and doesn't arrange for another doctor to fulfill those needs
  • A doctor turns a patient over to another doctor that is clearly unqualified to handle the case
  • A patient is discharged from a hospital without being told that his or her condition is serious and not given enough follow-up instructions to know how to handle the situation
  • A patient with severe cognitive dysfunction is left to his or her own devices when it should be obvious to the doctor that he or she is incapable of following the necessary medical plan

Sometimes patient abandonment is obvious. For example, if a doctor refuses to fill a patient's high blood pressure medication because of an unpaid bill and the patient subsequently has a stroke, that's clearly abandonment. Often, the abandonment is subtle or inflicted on people that are already socially marginalized, like the elderly or homeless.

If you or someone you love has been a victim of patient abandonment, seek help from a medical malpractice attorney today.

Source: WiseGEEK, "What is Patient Abandonment?," accessed Aug. 02, 2017

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