Burr & Forman

10.9.2013   |   Articles / Publications

Birmingham Medical News : Terminating the Physician-Patient Relationship

Oftentimes, I am asked by physicians how to end the physician-patient relationship. For variousreasons, the physician desires to end the relationship and have the parties go their separate ways.Such may stem from a disagreement concerning the course of treatment, threats or harassment bythe patient, or just personality conflicts.

While a physician retains some control over who he/she treats, there are certain ethical and legalobligations imposed on the physician once the physician-patient relationship has begun. TheAmerican Medical Association (“AMA”) states that “Physicians are free to choose whom they willserve‚ĶOnce having undertaken a case, the physician should not neglect the patient.” Thus, whenterminating the physician-patient relationship, the termination must be structured properly in orderto avoid violating ethical obligations and opening oneself up to potential liability.
For example, patient abandonment claims can arise when the physician-patient relationship is notterminated properly. These claims generally develop when there is a termination of the physicianpatientrelationship at an unreasonable time or critical stage in the patient’s treatment and withoutgiving the patient an opportunity to find a replacement provider. To legally succeed on a claim ofpatient abandonment, the patient must be able to show that he/she was injured as a result of thetermination of the relationship.
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