Medical Abandonment: A Subtle Form Of Medical Malpractice

One of the most subtle forms of medical malpractice is patient abandonment. What is it and how should you respond if it happens to you?

What is patient abandonment?

Doctors have a responsibility toward their patients who are in need of ongoing care. Doctors often reserve the right to terminate a relationship with a patient under various circumstances (such as repeated failures to show up for appointments without explanations or even just out of personality conflicts). However, they can't just exercise this right entirely at-will.

They still have a duty to make sure that their patient is able to find suitable replacement care. If the patient is in need of immediate care, they have an obligation to see that the patient receives that care -- even if it means treating a patient they'd rather forget.

What are examples of patient abandonment?

Patient abandonment can take many forms. In a lot of cases, patients may not even realize that the doctor is behaving unethically:

  • You tell the doctor that you don't agree with a treatment plan or a specific medication that he or she wants you to take. The next time you try to schedule an appointment, the office staff tells you that the doctor won't treat you anymore because you aren't compliant.

  • You saw a dermatologist several years before for a mole that turned out to be cancerous. You hadn't seen the doctor since because you had no further problems. You get a new mole (which you correctly believe is cancerous). When you call your old doctor, however, the office staff tells you that the doctor's practice isn't taking new patients and your long absence makes you a "new" patient again. Your treatment gets delayed while you hunt out another doctor to treat you.

  • Your doctor goes on vacation and doesn't find a qualified replacement to handle your medical care. The substitute doctor ignores the upper abdominal pain that you mention and tells you to discuss it with your regular doctor when he or she gets back. You end up having a heart attack.

  • You have a double mastectomy for breast cancer and develop an infection inside the surgical site several weeks later. However, something got fouled up with your insurance and you still have a large, unpaid bill. The doctor refuses to operate to clean out the infection -- which is a critical problem -- because of the unpaid bill.

  • Your doctor sends you a notice that he or she will no longer treat you, for whatever reason, effective immediately. You aren't given any amount of time or assistance to transfer your care to another doctor.

What should you do if suffer patient abandonment?

If you've been abandoned by your doctor, despite a medical problem that requires ongoing care, you may have a strong medical malpractice lawsuit. Contact an attorney. You and your attorney will have to establish several things in order to make a successful case:

  • You have to establish that you had an existing doctor-patient relationship.

  • You were abandoned during a period of time in which you had a critical need for care.

  • You weren't given the time or resources to find a new physician.

  • You suffered some injury as a result.

The specific injuries that you suffer could vary from a delay in treatment that caused your condition to worsen, a condition that gets aggravated because of a lack of treatment, and emotional pain and suffering. For more information, talk to an attorney in your area to discuss the specifics of your case and any laws in your jurisdiction that might impact your case.

For professional legal help, contact a law firm such as Bayer Jerger & Underwood.