Can Doctors Dump Their Patients?

Recently we have noticed a disturbing trend in workers’ compensation claims of injured workers being summarily dismissed by a treating doctor while still in obvious need of treatment for their injury. One doctor declined to continue seeing an injured worker after he had referred the worker out for needed surgery, even though the insurance company denied the surgery. The injured worker was left without any care or the ability to get further pain medications.

Since 1986 there have been Federal laws that prohibit hospitals from prematurely discharging a patient because of a low paying insurance plan or refusing treatment because of a patient’s inability to pay. However, there are no such Federal laws for private clinics and doctors. The American Medical Association has established guidelines regarding when a doctor may terminate a patient relationship, based on its Code of Ethics. Non-compliance with treatment, missed appointments, rude or obnoxious behavior, drug seeking behavior, non-payment of bills, retirement of doctor/closing of practice and changes in insurance are among the accepted reasons.

Doctors may not dismiss a patient while they are in an emergency or critical phase of care or when there is a lack of access to other appropriate medical care for the patient. If such a dismissal happens, do not be argumentative, rude or obnoxious. Do not ask this physician for a referral to a new doctor. Try to find your own doctor through your church, family, friends or other associates who may have contacts in the medical community. If the dismissal is unjustified, you may want to file a complaint with the State medical board.

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