What is Patient Abandonment?

When a doctor doesn’t end the provider-patient relationship properly, it could amount to malpractice.

Need Professional Help? Talk to a Lawyer.

Please answer a few questions to help us match you with attorneys in your area.

Injury from malpractice can be short/long term loss of Physical ability . This website is suppose to  help someone find an attorney. One must ask what is “loss of physical ability”.. is the reduction of opiate therapy which causes the pt to no longer to routinely do personal care tasks?  If your prescriber has reduced your dose and claims that they are going to follow the CDC guidelines.. these guidelines end goal is to eliminate all pts from taking pt’s opiates long term. It is important to audio/video all interactions with practitioner and the office staff. Because you may never know what they have documented in your medical records that are untruths.

Patient abandonment is a form of medical malpractice that occurs when a physician terminates the doctor-patient relationship without reasonable notice or a reasonable excuse, and fails to provide the patient with an opportunity to find a qualified replacement care provider.

In this article, we’ll look at the elements that typically define patient abandonment, and we’ll explore a few scenarios that could qualify as patient abandonment in the health care setting.

The Elements of Patient Abandonment

Let’s start by pointing out that 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. Having said that, there are certain common elements among patient abandonment cases:

  • First, the doctor-patient relationship must be established. This means that the physician must have agreed to treat the patient, and treatment must be underway.
  • Second, the abandonment must take place when the patient is still in need of medical attention — this is known as a “critical stage” of the treatment process.
  • Third, the abandonment must have taken place so abruptly that the patient did not have enough time or resources to find a suitable replacement physician to take over treatment.
  • Finally, the patient must suffer an injury as a direct result of the patient abandonment.

Examples of Patient Abandonment

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:

  • the hospital has inadequate staffing
  • the medical staff fails to reach out to a patient who has missed an important follow-up appointment
  • the medical staff fails to communicate an urgent question from the patient to the doctor, or
  • the medical staff schedules an appointment too far in the future, resulting in preventable harm to the patient as their condition worsens.

When It’s Not Patient Abandonment

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:

  • the doctor has insufficient skills to provide adequate treatment to the patient
  • If the pt has been seeing the practitioner for a while this could be considered a LAME EXCUSE
  • there are insufficient supplies or resources to provide adequate treatment to the patient
  • ethical  or legal conflicts arise during the treatment process
  • If the practitioner has been treating a pt’s chronic pain.. did the practitioner’s ethics change ?
  • the patient violates the physician’s policies
  • Is the physician’s policies unethical or illegal – like mandating services that have proven of no benefit to the pt which is insurance fraud
  • the patient has numerous cancelled or missed appointments
  • the patient refuses to comply with the physician’s recommendations
  • Is the physician’s policies unethical or illegal – like mandating services that have proven of no benefit to the pt which is insurance fraud
  • the patient demonstrates inappropriate behavior, such as making sexual advances or engaging in verbal abuse.
  • It may be important for the pt to audio/video visits with the practitioners to prove/refute what is being claimed

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 provide the patient with written notice of the termination along with a valid reason for the decision. The physician should continue to treat the patient for a reasonable period of time to allow the patient to arrange for alternative care from another competent physician. The physician should also recommend another qualified physician. Finally, once the patient has secured another physician, and has signed an authorization, the physician must transfer the patient’s medical records to the new physician in a reasonable and timely manner.

7 Responses

  1. I think i havea case..dr ordered mri..in april. No phone calls for a follow up. A month went by. I emailed. They said might be a good idea to make an appt. Another month. Then they cancelled in june. I emailed again to ask why. They rescheduled. By that time my pcp and i got copies. My hip needs to be replaced. She has treated me so poorly. I actually took an advocate. Advocate asked if i have pain. She said “shes in severe pain but im not willingto helpbher” my mri showed bone on bone w bone spurs.

  2. Sorry Steve regardless of the legal definition of abandonment we as chronic pain patients have been abandoned because we are inconvenient and an annoyance to the government and insurance companies.

  3. Luann…I’m a pharmacist and not an attorney, so please understand that my words here are more of an educated opinion than any sort of legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice. As I understand it, your son was being treated by a provider and the treatment plan included the regular utilization of a Benzodiazepine known as Klonopin, aka Clonazepam. The psychiatrist, that picked your son up as a patient, knew or should have known that a patient that has been receiving a Benzodiazepine for more than a couple of weeks and/or at a dose that was in the mid to upper end of the manufacturer’s maximum dosing recommendations (20 mg/day per the monograph that I consulted), could suffer a withdrawal-related injury or death.

    I don’t see this as abandonment as much as I see it as a case of negligence. I see this as a case of malpractice informed by nonfeasance. What I’m saying is that the new treating psychiatrist failed to act. This psychiatrist failed to formulate some sort of consideration to deal with the fact that your son had been utilizing a Benzodiazepine for a period of time and/or at a dose that would result in an abstinence syndrome if abruptly discontinued. The most common way of dealing with such a scenario, and is also considered an acceptable standard of practice in our country, is to continue the prescribing of the Klonopin with the end goal being a tapering of the dose, over an adequate amount of time, and eventual discontinuance of the medication. Understand that I’m solely addressing the avoidance of withdrawal and not addressing the underlying diagnosis for the Klonopin in the first place. That is a different consideration.

    Because the psychiatrist failed to make some sort of medically responsible provision to prevent a predictable withdrawal syndrome, injury did indeed occur to your son and the noted family member. It would seem, based on the information that you provided, that the psychiatrist failed in his fiduciary duty as a physician, resulting in injury to to least two people and putting their own self in an actionable position. Again, this is not legal advice. It is my own understanding of the law that I have as a pharmacist. We can be held liable for failure to execute our duties and are trained in this most rudimentary way of thinking as I have expressed here. Our training serves to help us avoid finding ourselves in an analogous situation.

  4. So if my son was abruptly left in the lurch because a psychiatrist left the office and another took over who did not prescribe clonopin, thus terminating drug abruptly. This caused psychosis and withdrawal that almost killed him and caused harm to family members physically. Would this constitute abandonment?

  5. Wow,,,Mr.Steve….U R REALLY HELPING US OUT,,,FOR REAL!!!,,,,THANK U!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SERIOUSLY,,,THIS IS VERY VERY USEFUL INFO,,, it nice to have someone on ,’our” side,,who truly undersatands the meat and potatoes of our sitituations,u actaully will save folks lives,,giving them hope there are ways to fix this!!mary

  6. Great information. I bet if this gets around a little more, we will be making noise from the (unfortunate) experiences of some pain patients. Will share.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: