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What is patient abandonment?

Medical MalpracticeNews   February 14, 2018

Patient abandonment occurs any time your doctor abruptly discontinues your care and leaves you without available time or resources to find suitable replacement care. It’s a serious form of medical malpractice.

It doesn’t matter if your relationship with the doctor was long-standing, like with a primary care physician you’ve had for years, or recent — even sudden, like with an emergency-room doctor. Once a relationship has been established, the physician has an obligation to provide you with care until your relationship can be properly terminated.

When looking at a situation involving an alleged patient abandonment, courts look carefully at the expectations and understanding of the patient, not the physician.

Some common reasons for patient abandonment include:

  • A doctor at a clinic, hospital or urgent-care practice starts the care for a patient and leaves before that care is over — usually because his or her shift has ended — without passing the care to another doctor.
  • A primary care physician goes on vacation or takes a leave of absence without arranging for another doctor to handle emergency calls from patients.
  • The patient’s doctor does arrange for coverage during his or her absence, but the on-call physician fails to show up or follow through.
  • A doctor refuses to see a patient who needs critical treatment because of an unpaid bill (whether it’s the whole bill or just the copay).
  • A patient with an urgent medical need is denied an appointment by the clerical staff and not permitted to speak to the doctor’s medical assistant or nurse.
  • A patient is given medication or has surgery and the doctor fails to schedule a timely follow-up appointment to make sure that the patient isn’t suffering any ill effects from treatment (such as side effects or infection).
  • A patient is discharged from a practice without adequate notice or time to get a new treating physician over some personal dispute with the doctor.
  • The discharged patient is unable to find qualified care in the given time period (meaning a physician with the necessary skill level isn’t able to see him or her by the end of the termination period).

No patient should suffer due to physician abandonment. If you’ve been harmed because of negligent abandonment by a physician, explore all your legal options.

Source:, “Abandoning Patients,” accessed Feb. 07, 2018