WHAT IS THE MEANING OF “PATIENT ABANDONMENT”?
The term “patient abandonment” sounds very serious, and in fact, is a quite serious claim against a physician or surgeon. A claim of patient abandonment could arise when a physician retires or relocates to a new practice group. If a patient were to succeed on such a claim, the physician or surgeon would face liability for malpractice, which could result in serious damage to his or her reputation. There are, however, very specific elements that a patient must meet in order to establish a claim of patient abandonment. Physicians and surgeons who understand the meaning of patient abandonment and the required elements thereof can make sure to fulfill their duties to patients and avoid any potential claims of abandonment.
A claim for “abandonment” involves the termination of the professional relationship between the physician and the patient at an unreasonable time or without affording the patient the opportunity to procure an equally qualified replacement. Still, a physician does have the right to withdraw from a case upon giving proper notice that he is under a duty to continue attending to the patient until all the conditions for appropriate withdrawal are complied with.
Once a professional relationship is established with a patient, physicians are responsible for continuing treatment unless the physician-patient relationship has been terminated. Failure to formally terminate the physician-patient relationship can result in a malpractice claim alleging abandonment.
It is sometimes appropriate and recommended to terminate the physician-patient relationship if the patient:
- Shows a continued lack of cooperation in the treatment process
- Cancels or “no shows” for an excessive number of appointments
- Fails to pay for care provided after an extended “grace” period
- Is extremely rude, abusive, or threatening
A letter should be sent to the patient via regular and registered mail informing him/her of the termination of the physician-patient relationship. Following are guidelines for a termination letter:
- Give a specific date, at least 30 days, with sufficient time for the patient to make arrangements for another physician’s services
- Offer emergency care in the interim
- Provide resources for finding another provider
- Offer to provide copies of the patient’s medical record (with proper authorization) to the new provider
- Maintain copies of all correspondence and communication in the medical record
By following the tips stated above, physicians and surgeons can reduce potential liability for a claim of patient abandonment in the event that the physician deems it necessary to terminate a relationship with a patient.
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