Patient Abandonment or Premature Discharge — Can You Sue for Medical Malpractice Under the Law?
Most forms of medical malpractice involve errors during the course of the doctor-patient relationship. By contrast, patient abandonment happens when a doctor ends the doctor-patient relationship abruptly without a valid reason. The patient may be left without a replacement health care provider, causing their condition to worsen. To avoid this situation, a doctor should give the patient notice of terminating the relationship so that they have time to find a replacement. They also should give the patient a recommendation for a new doctor and provide the new doctor with the patient’s medical records.
When Does Patient Abandonment Happen?
A common example of patient abandonment is when a doctor withholds treatment based on the patient failing to pay the medical bill. It also may happen when a doctor fails to respond within a reasonable time to a patient who needs care, when medical staff fails to communicate urgent questions from the patient to the doctor, or when a doctor does not promptly schedule follow-up appointments to address a rapidly developing condition. On the other hand, patient abandonment probably does not cover situations in which the patient violates the doctor’s policies, the patient repeatedly misses appointments, the patient engages in threatening conduct toward the doctor, or the patient fails to follow the doctor’s instructions.
Proving a Patient Abandonment Claim
State laws provide a broad range of definitions of patient abandonment, but there are some common themes. You will need to show that there was a doctor-patient relationship, such that the doctor was in the process of treating you. Generally, you will need to prove that the doctor abandoned you while you still needed medical attention, rather than after your needs had been resolved. Another critical element of the claim is that the patient must not have been given a reasonable time to find a replacement doctor or assistance in finding a replacement after the doctor terminated the relationship.
As with other personal injury claims, you will need to show that you suffered injuries or other quantifiable losses because of the abandonment. This often means proving that your condition became worse because it went untreated for an unreasonable time.
Premature Discharge from Hospitals
An issue somewhat similar to patient abandonment arises when a hospital discharges a patient too early. This often happens when a hospital is overcrowded or understaffed. However, these logistical issues do not excuse a hospital for failing to properly stabilize a patient’s condition, diagnose and treat a patient, and conduct necessary tests. You can try to prevent being discharged too early by raising the issue with the doctor treating you. You should make clear that you are still suffering from serious health conditions or discomfort and cannot care for yourself.
In the event that you have been discharged too early, you can bring a medical malpractice claim. You will need an expert to testify that a competent health care professional in the same situation would not have found you ready to be discharged. If you can establish the liability of a hospital or a doctor, you can potentially recover compensation for the pain and suffering that you endured, as well as any medical costs for follow-up treatment of your condition. You can also seek damages for lost income and earning capacity if the premature discharge caused complications that interfered with your working ability.
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