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Medical Malpractice: Patient Abandonment

Patient abandonment occurs when a medical practitioner claims to terminate the doctor-patient relationship without a reasonable excuse or without reasonable notice and thereby fails to offer the patient the opportunity to find a competent substitute care provider.

Here, you will find some elements that describe patient abandonment, in a health care setting.

Defining Patient Abandonment

There are common factors that may give rise to liability among patient abandonment situations:

  1. A physician-patient relationship is established.  This usually means that the doctor must have agreed to see and treat the patient, and that a form of treatment was ongoing.
  2. Abandonment occurred when the patient was in need of medical care.
  3. The abandonment happened so suddenly that it did not allow the patient sufficient time and/or resources to locate an appropriate replacement doctor to take over the medical treatment in a timely fashion.
  4. The patient ultimately suffered an injury as a direct consequence of the abandonment.

It’s important to note that even if patient abandonment has occurred, an implicated physician’s liability may vary from region to region.

Patient abandonment can occur thoroughly a multitude of scenarios, even including that the doctor is somehow unreasonably unavailable when it comes to taking care of the patient.  The following are additional scenarios involving staff:

  • Insufficient staffing
  • Failure to communicate with a patient who missed a critical follow-up appointment
  • Failure to communicate important questions from the patient to the physician
  • Appointments scheduled too far into the future, thus resulting in unnecessary damages to the patient as his or her condition worsened

Cases That Do Not Involve Patient Abandonment

Not every case of seeming inattention or lack of communication will involve patient abandonment. The following have been found to be valid reasons doctor-patient relationships terminated:

  • The physician is lacking the skills or expertise sufficient to provide the patient with adequate treatment
  • A lack of resources and/or supplies available to the doctor/staff
  • Legal conflicts and/or ethical conflicts that arise
  • The patient has violated the doctor’s policies
  • The patient has many missed and/or cancelled appointments
  • The patient has refused to comply with the doctor’s recommendations
  • The patient has demonstrated inappropriate conduct, such as engaging in verbal abuse and/or making sexual advances

If the termination is sudden and unexpected, one might expect the doctor to provide his or her patient with a written notice of the relationship termination along with a reasonable excuse for his or her decision. The doctor should continue to see and treat the person for a reasonable amount of time in order to allow the patient enough time to find alternative care and provide the patient with a recommendation for a qualified caregiver. Once the patient has obtained the care of another medical caretaker and has signed necessary authorizations, the doctor must transfer the medical records to the new doctor in an appropriate amount of time.

Obtain the Legal Support of a Skilled Attorney

While patient abandonment can be difficult to demonstrate, if you have questions, it is important to seek the legal support of a skilled and qualified attorney to present a solid case against a negligent medical care provider. When a patient suffers as a result of negligence, it is important to seek monetary restitution for the unnecessary harms.

The attorneys at Heiting & Irwin are highly skilled in the field of medical malpractice. They are dedicated to fighting for the rights of victims who have been wronged as a result of medical negligence. Medical malpractice cases in the State of California are subject to time limitations; seek the support of a qualified attorney as soon as possible.

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