Whether you can sue your doctor for not helping you is a complex issue that depends on a number of factors.
Once a doctor–patient relationship has been established, a doctor is obligated to continue to provide care for a patient. However, there are circumstances in which a doctor can legitimately refuse to begin a doctor–patient relationship or terminate an existing doctor–patient relationship as long as they follow appropriate steps.
A successful medical malpractice personal injury lawsuit hinges on proving a doctor’s negligence in providing care that meets accepted medical standards.
Suppose a doctor refuses to treat or stops treating a patient for unacceptable reasons or does not take appropriate steps in ending the doctor–patient relationship and a serious injury or death results. In that situation, it could be argued that the applicable standard of care was violated.
The doctor–patient relationship is not governed by one specific, all-encompassing statute—it’s more complicated than that. State and federal laws cover some aspects of it; court decisions cover others. The American Medical Association (AMA) Code of Medical Ethics provides guidance on this.
According to the AMA Journal of Ethics, it begins when a doctor “acts in a patient’s case by examining, diagnosing, treating, or agreeing to do so.” This might be when:
Once this relationship is established, a doctor is bound to keep treating the patient. The patient can end the relationship at any time and for any reason. But if the doctor wants to end it, they must be careful to take appropriate steps.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the laws and codes related to the doctor–patient relationship.
Two federal laws place significant and strict limitations on when a doctor can refuse to treat a patient.
Title 844 of the Indiana Administrative Code includes a section on standards of professional conduct for doctors and other licensed health care practitioners.
Professional organizations such as the American Medical Association play a vital role in determining the standard of care physicians must provide to their patients. Chapter 1 of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics explicitly addresses when a doctor can choose not to accept a patient and how a doctor should go about terminating their relationship with a patient.
According to the AMA, valid reasons for not accepting a patient include:
The AMA’s steps for terminating the doctor–patient relationship mirror the requirements of Indiana law covered above.
In theory, a physician could refuse to see a patient who can’t pay for services. They must ensure, however, that the patient’s condition is not a medical emergency. In addition, Chapter 11 of the AMA Code of Medical Ethics says that physicians have “an ethical responsibility to ensure that all persons have access to needed care regardless of their economic means.” This responsibility might extend to:
Whether your doctor refused to treat you, left you on your own, or didn’t follow up on your care, proving medical malpractice comes down to four things:
When is a doctor justified in refusing to see a patient? What constitutes patient abandonment or failure to follow up? The answers to these questions are not always clear-cut. Because of this, it’s helpful to discuss a doctor’s refusal to treat you or failure to follow up on your treatment with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.
A doctor might not accept someone as their patient if:
Unless a doctor is under contract (for example, with a hospital or health management organization) to treat you, they are not legally obligated to keep you as a patient.
However, if a doctor no longer wants to see you as a patient, they have a responsibility to:
Some common reasons why a doctor might stop seeing a patient include:
If your doctor stops treating you without giving you adequate notice or refuses to keep treating you while you look for another doctor, they may be liable for medical malpractice if your condition worsens.
Doctors are required to provide ongoing care once a doctor–patient relationship has been established.
Suppose your condition requires follow-up. If your doctor doesn’t take the necessary steps, they may be liable for medical malpractice if their lack of care causes injury or death.
Examples of things that could be construed as failure-to-follow-up medical malpractice include:
If your doctor refuses to treat you, stops treating you, or does not follow up on your treatment for any of the following reasons, you might be able to claim medical malpractice.
So, can you sue a doctor for refusing to treat you? If these or similar circumstances apply to you and the doctor’s actions (or lack of action) result in an injury, your condition becoming chronic, or your condition worsening, you may have a medical malpractice case.
Keep a diary of your interactions with your doctor and other personnel, including nurse practitioners, nurses, and administrative staff. Also keep records of the treatment of your medical condition by other clinicians. In addition, reach out to a medical malpractice personal injury lawyer to discuss your case.
Our medical malpractice FAQ answers a number of common questions regarding medical malpractice lawsuits. Common causes of medical malpractice include surgical errors, diagnosis errors (misdiagnosis, failure to diagnose, and delayed diagnosis), prescription errors, hospital-acquired infections, childbirth injuries, and premature discharge.
If you were harmed by a doctor’s refusal to treat or lack of follow-up, you may be experiencing not only the pain and anxiety of your medical condition but also the added financial burden of paying for treatment or lost wages. The experienced medical malpractice lawyers of Wilson Kehoe Winingham can help you through this difficult time. Contact WKW today for a free, no-obligation consultation about your case.
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