What is Patient Abandonment – And What Is It Not?

What is Patient Abandonment - And What Is It NotIf you are like so many other Americans, you rely on your primary care physician and other doctors you see regularly for guidance on your health and wellness, as well as controlling medical conditions. That doctor-patient relationship you have established with certain practitioners is invaluable, so when it gets removed without notice or reason, it can be quite damaging. In fact, it can be so damaging, it might even constitute a form of medical malpractice called patient abandonment.

What is Patient Abandonment?

At the surface, patient abandonment is simply when a physician decides to terminate a doctor-patient relationship without providing any adequate reasoning to said patient, and usually with no warning whatsoever. However, patient abandonment only becomes an issue worthy of a potential lawsuit if certain conditions are met, which are:

  • The patient was in the midst of some form of medical treatment regimen or scheduled care.
  • The ongoing medical treatment is necessary for the patient’s health.
  • The abandonment was so sudden it did not give the patient enough time to find another physician to safely continue that ongoing medical treatment.
  • The patient suffers an injury or experiences a worsening of a preexisting condition due to the lapse of physician care caused by the patient abandonment.
Patient abandonment can also be caused by other means not exactly related to sudden abandonment of a doctor’s responsibilities. For example, an understaffed hospital that cannot attend to a patient in need could technically be accountable for abandonment. Preventable failures in communication between medical staff and a patient that lead to patient harm is also patient abandonment, as the medical staff “gave up” on trying to help the patient as defined in their duties.

What Isn’t Patient Abandonment?

With a cursory glance, it is easy to see many situations as patient abandonment when in fact, with closer review, the happenstances are acceptable.

The cancelation of a doctor-patient relationship may be validated if:
  • The doctor has reason to believe he or she is not trained well enough to continue the patient’s treatment and expresses this clearly.
  • It would be impossible to continue treatment due to the lack of appropriate resources, supplies, or medications.
  • It is reasonable to assume the patient no longer wishes to continue the doctor-patient relationship due to multiple missed appointments.
  • The doctor has reason to believe continuation of the treatment would be unethical; in such a situation, the doctor should attempt to find another solution or refer the patient to another doctor.
  • The patient disobeys a doctor’s orders, becomes abusive, or otherwise violates accepted policies of the physician or medical institution.
The nuances between what is and what is not patient abandonment can seem understandably confusing if you are not well-versed in medical malpractice law. Rather than trying to interpret the complexities of legislation and legalese yourself, team up with Christian & Christian and our Greenville medical malpractice attorneys. We can help you determine if you have a valid patient abandonment case during a free initial consultation. If you do, be sure to ask about our contingency fees – a “no recovery, no fee” system that takes the risk out of your lawsuit – one more reason why so many clients choose us.

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