When a patient is harmed by a doctor’s cessation of treatment – commonly called “patient abandonment’, or “medical abandonment” – a malpractice case may result.
A patient will often visit a doctor at a fairly distressing time, often at the height of the patient’s vulnerability.
As a result, a doctor may harm a patient merely by declining to provide treatment or by ceasing the provision of care before it is medically reasonable to do so.
A doctor’s abandonment of a patient who is in need of care can give rise to a medical malpractice lawsuit. This article discusses the applicable laws, as well as how patients must prove their medical malpractice cases when they have been harmed by a doctor’s failure to treat.
Abandonment Resulting in Medical Malpractice
A patient may still have a case for abandonment under general medical malpractice rules. In order to win such a case, a patient must prove the basic elements necessary to win any medical malpractice case:
- the appropriate standard of care under the circumstances
- the commission of medical negligence in the provision of treatment, and
- harm caused by that negligence
In the sections below, we’ll describe some common patient abandonment fact patterns and then take a closer look at how the elements of a malpractice case apply to those fact patterns.
Common Abandonment Fact Patterns
Transfer Without Proper Instruction
Once a doctor initiates treatment of a patient, the doctor must not only terminate care at a proper time but also in a proper manner.
If a doctor transfers a patient to the care of a second doctor, the second doctor may not be familiar with crucial details of a patient’s care. So, the first doctor has an ongoing obligation to provide the second doctor with proper instructions and all relevant records (treatment notes, test results, etc.).
Failure to do so could rise to the level of medical malpractice.
Patient’s Failure to Pay
A doctor cannot terminate care of a patient when the patient is at a critical stage of treatment, solely because the patient is unable to pay for the care.
However, if the patient is in a stable condition and is given ample warning of the termination, a doctor may be able to stop treatment
The critical issue in these cases is usually whether the abandonment actually caused the harm suffered by the patient.