Once a physician and a person needing medical treatment have an established doctor–patient relationship, the law and medical ethics require the physician to continue to treat the patient. There are legitimate reasons, however, for a doctor to stop treating a patient. If that is the case, doctors must be careful to follow appropriate procedures when doing so.
Patient abandonment is when a doctor or other health care provider stops treating a patient without taking these steps:
You may have a medical malpractice case if your medical condition worsened because a doctor stopped treating you on short notice, didn’t help you find another doctor, or took too long to transfer your medical records.
Let’s take a detailed look at patient abandonment medical malpractice. Our medical malpractice FAQ provides more general information.
Patient abandonment in Indiana is governed by Indiana law, court decisions, and established standards of medical ethics.
Title 844, Article 5, Rule 2 of the Indiana Administrative Code covers standards of professional conduct in medicine.
“Reasonable care” is an important standard in determining whether medical malpractice has occurred. Did the doctor in question provide care that matched the standard of what a typical, reasonable doctor would provide?
In addition, the law’s reference to “current professional theory and practice” implies that documents like the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) Code of Medical Ethics are also relevant to medical malpractice cases.
Two more sections of Title 844, Article 5, Rule 2 are relevant to Indiana patient abandonment cases.
Chapter 1 of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics covers patient–physician relationships. The section on terminating a patient–physician relationship says that when a doctor wants to stop seeing a patient, they must:
These requirements are very similar to what Indiana law stipulates.
Although the requirements in Indiana law and the AMA Code of Medical Ethics seem simple, matters are often much more complicated.
To win a medical malpractice case in Indiana, a plaintiff must prove four things:
A patient abandonment medical malpractice case, like other medical malpractice personal injury cases, must involve all four items. In other words, just because your doctor abruptly stops treating you doesn’t necessarily mean you have a malpractice case.
For example, suppose your doctor drops you as a patient on only a week’s notice. However, you quickly find a new doctor and your care continues without any negative effects on your health.
In this case, although your original physician didn’t give you “reasonable written notice” of dropping you as a patient, their breach of the standard of care didn’t result in an injury or cause your health to worsen. Therefore, you would probably not be able to bring charges of medical malpractice.
However, if you had difficulty finding a new doctor and the delay caused your health to deteriorate, resulting in new medical bills and time missed from work, you might have a malpractice case.
If you think your doctor’s actions may constitute patient abandonment, it’s best to discuss the matter with a patient abandonment medical malpractice lawyer.
There are some acceptable reasons for a doctor to stop treating a patient. Examples include:
Even if a doctor has one or more of the above reasons for terminating the doctor–patient relationship, they are still obligated to follow the appropriate legal steps—giving adequate notice, referring the patient to another provider, and transferring records.
Medical abandonment is not necessarily due to a doctor being incompetent or malicious. Patient abandonment can include:
Other examples of medical abandonment include:
Patient abandonment is one of the less common types of medical malpractice claims. It’s difficult to determine the most frequent cause of patient abandonment claims because statistics on such cases are scarce. Nevertheless, the consequences of patient abandonment can be just as severe as those of other types of medical malpractice.
If you were injured or your medical condition worsened because a doctor abandoned you during treatment, you may be able to collect compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. The experienced Indiana medical malpractice lawyers at Wilson Kehoe Winingham can help you get through the difficulties you’re in because of patient abandonment. Contact WKW today for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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