What is Patient Abandonment?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 21 January 2020
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Patient abandonment is a form of neglect in which a patient is not provided with care or is provided with inadequate care. Several conditions must be present for a situation to be termed abandonment in the legal sense. Care providers are usually careful to avoid situations which might be considered forms of patient abandonment both because of their ethical obligations to care for patients and because they want to avoid legal liability.

When a care provider enters into an agreement to provide care for a patient and terminates the agreement without the consent of the patient and without giving proper warning or making acceptable alternative arrangements, this is patient abandonment. For example, if a laboring woman enters a hospital and an obstetrician starts treating her and then leaves and does not return, the obstetrician can be liable for patient abandonment. Likewise, if the obstetrician left and sent in a labor and delivery nurse when the woman was clearly in need of surgical attention, this is also patient abandonment, because the patient is not being provided with an appropriate level of care.


If someone is clearly in need of medical care and that care is not provided or someone is receiving medical care and a care provider stops, both of these situations are forms of patient abandonment. A person entering an emergency room who requires immediate treatment and does not receive it has been abandoned, just as a patient who is left in an emergency room by an ambulance crew which does not follow transfer protocol to ensure that a care provider is taking over treatment has been abandoned.

This does not mean that care providers cannot refuse to care for patients if they cannot provide an adequate level of care. For example, a hospital which is over capacity might ask ambulance crews to transport patients to another hospital, just as a hospital with a special needs patient might transfer that patient to a more appropriate facility. Likewise, a nurse can warn supervisors that he or she cannot work overtime hours, or that her or his patient load is too high and no additional patients can be added. This is not abandonment because the care provider has made the fact that care cannot be provided clear in advance.

Likewise, care providers are also allowed to stop treating patients without it being considered abandonment. In order to do so, the care provider must provide patients with ample advance warning, or make arrangements to transfer care to another physician. For example, physicians can warn patients that they are relocating to another area or that a patient is violating the policies of the practice and that the doctor-patient relationship must be terminated. If a doctor must drop a patient immediately because of an emergency, grossly inappropriate behavior, ethical conflicts, or other issues, that doctor is obliged to find a qualified care provider to take over and to notify the patient that someone else will be handling his or her care.


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Post 6

I was not aware my doctor was going on vacation. I called for an appointment and was told by the receptionist that he was on vacation. I asked what I should do as I am on several narcotics and will go into withdrawal. She said I always call late "like I can just come in anytime" and the covering doctor was full.

I asked again what I could do (I usually call a week ahead because I do not have anyone to drive me. If I make the appointment when I leave a visit I worry if my back is so bad I may have to cancel). This woman is so nasty. I called the next day again because I

called several walk-in urgent clinics and they said they wouldn't deal with this. She repeated I could not be helped.

I asked about the N.P. as I could make the methadone stretch and she replied "she can't prescribe any medications that are narcotic." I feel this is patient abandonment as she had said the doctor I see would be back in two weeks. She said she wouldn't give me anything until three days after he gets back. This is absurd. I have gotten appointments the same day for severe nausea and once for severe pain. I don't know what to do. Thanks for any help.

Post 4

I am a patient with chronic pain. My doctor treated me for about four years, then I moved to Florida for two years, but I moved back and the doctor has been treating me for two years, so a total of about six years, on and off.

The doctor has been prescribing pain medication (yes, controlled substances). I have many medical conditions including: fibromyalgia, degenerative arthritis throughout my body including my back, knees, ankles and neck. I have carpal tunnel in both hands, neuropathy, bulging discs (four of them) bone spurs in my shoulders, back and feet. I also have a leaky heart valve, lordosis of the neck, scoliosis and other things.

This is what happened to me: A pharmacy

decided I should not be taking two different narcotics together and refused to fill my script. They called my doctor and she decided not to fill that script again. In fact, she decided I need to go to pain management and she cannot treat me anymore. I already tried pain management four years ago and have gone through two years of physical therapy with no help for the pain. Controlled substances are the only things that help me to be able to even get out of bed and want to live.

What do I do now? I have not seen anyone other than my doctor, and I have only taken what she prescribed. The pharmacy treated me like a junkie. My doctor now treats me like I am a bad person. Is this doctor abandonment? The doctor did say they will give me one more prescription for pain medication and that is it.

Also, you should know that I do not have insurance, but I do not owe the doctor anything and I have always paid her what I owe her. Anyone who wants to answer this or give me some advice, please respond here. You should also know that I called three pain management clinics in my area and they do not accept cash patients. Now what do I do? I am afraid if I go through withdrawals I will have a heart attack since I do have heart problems and honestly I don't want to live if I have to live in pain.

Post 3

I am a confused patient of chronic migraines which last sometimes three, four or five days to the point where my husband feels it is an emergency and takes me to the ER.

The ER asks us what normally works and as soon as it comes out of my mouth, the ER doctor quickly stereotypes me as a drug seeker, refuses to give me what normally works and wants to give all other medications that my body does not respond well to.

For example, I may be agitated, restless, crawly feeling, etc., but they report it as me being exhibiting drug behaviors/patterns when it's actually what was given to me that made me like that.

First of all, I was

not showing those signs before being given the doctor's choice of cocktails for migraines, except signs that I am in a lot of pain. As a patient, do you have the right to refuse those doctor's choice treatments that make you act totally not yourself and because they feel they already treated you, the just discharged you even though you are clearly still in pain? They treat you with no dignity or respect. They downgrade or belittle you by saying you are not the professional and can not have a say in whatever and however you are being treated.

Is this true and as a patient, are our you really at the mercy of all these health care providers who thinks they know it all and are highly intelligent and can do whatever they want.

Post 1

So if a patient has a hematologist and that doctor does not give a hand written statement for discharging a patient without warning, is that a form of negligence?

He treated me for Hemochromatosis for seven years and suddenly he decided to become a pcp. However, a pcp is not allowed to administer phlebotomies to a patient with Hemochromatosis.

Would this fall under willful failure to treat the patient and willful failure to discharge a patient? I have never received a letter from him saying he was dropping me as a patient. I need help with this.

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