What Is Patient Abandonment?

Doctors owe their patients high standards of care. Rules, laws, and expectations in the medical industry protect patients from a wide range of harms and negligence. Within a doctor-patient relationship, a physician owes duties and responsibilities to his/her patient. One of these responsibilities is not to abandon the patient, or to sever the professional relationship without proper notice. Doing so could cause undue harm to the patient, and even result in a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you were a victim of medical malpractice, such as patient abandonment, speak to our Kansas City medical malpractice lawyers.

Duties of the Patient-Physician Relationship

The patient-physician relationship begins when a doctor first participates in the patient’s care, including diagnosis and treatment. The relationship will continue until one or the other party terminates it. The parameters of this relationship are widespread, encompassing both ethical and legal considerations. A physician owes many duties to his or her patient during the relationship. Duties of a physician include meeting patient needs, making a reasonable diagnosis, obtaining informed consent for treatments, and communicating honestly and openly.

Proper Professional Relationship Termination

Part of a physician’s duties to a patient is to terminate the relationship – when needed – in a way that protects the patient from harm. There are three ways in which to properly end the patient-physician relationship: mutual agreement to do so, a patient dismissing the physician, or the physician terminating the relationship after giving the patient reasonable notice and time to find another doctor. The patient no longer requiring the doctor’s services also terminates the relationship.

For a physician to properly terminate the patient-doctor relationship with a patient who is actively receiving treatment, he or she must follow a protocol. The doctor must tell the patient that he or she is terminating the relationship. The relationship must be terminated both in person or via phone and with a written letter sent by certified mail. The physician should explain the reason for the termination. The doctor must also give notice of termination with sufficient time for the patient to find an adequate replacement.

Sufficient time to find a new doctor depends on the circumstances. If the physician is the only specialist in his/her field in the city, it may take longer for the patient to find a proper replacement. The seriousness of the patient’s condition can also alter the appropriate timeline. A more serious illness may require a longer notice before a physician terminates the relationship. Something such as a broken finger, on the other hand, may only require a few weeks’ notice.

Defining Patient Abandonment

Patient abandonment occurs when a doctor does not give proper notice of the intent to terminate the relationship and leaves his or her patient without an alternative healthcare provider in the middle of treatment. Patient abandonment could harm the patient, who may not receive proper medical care in the physician’s absence. Abandoning a patient without notice in the middle of treatment could potentially cause a deterioration in health or condition. If this is the case, the patient may have grounds for a medical malpractice claim against the physician.

Patient abandonment can be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit if the patient’s attorney can prove that the patient required ongoing medical treatment, the physician terminated the relationship and stopped treating the patient, the physician did not give the patient adequate time to find another doctor, and the abandonment caused the patient’s condition to worsen. These are the four main elements of an abandonment-based medical malpractice claim.

A successful case could result in the patient recovering financial compensation. Compensation can be awarded for related medical bills, pain and suffering, and lost wages. The patient involved in the case would likely need to hire a personal injury attorney in Kansas City, as medical malpractice lawsuits can be difficult to win without legal representation. The patient’s lawyer may need to hire medical experts to provide testimony proving that the physician negligently abandoned the patient and caused the harm in question.


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