Consumer Guide To Patient Abandonment (2024)

Reviewed By Adam Ramirez, J.D.


Read in 5 mins

Failing to complete medical treatment can lead to serious health risks. If you’ve been unable to continue your care because your healthcare provider stops seeing you, you may have grounds for a patient abandonment claim. In this article, we will cover what is patient abandonment, what can go wrong when you stop care, and what you should do if your care has been abandoned.

What Is Patient Abandonment?

Patient abandonment occurs when a healthcare provider terminates the provider-patient relationship without a valid reason, and without providing notice and an opportunity for the patient to find replacement care.

Many people think of patient abandonment only occurring with doctors, but it can be caused by any healthcare provider. When a patient is abandoned, it can leave that patient without access to necessary care and put them at risk of serious health problems.

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Patient Abandonment Consequences

The consequences of patient abandonment can be severe. For the patient, it may result in:

  • Worsening of their medical condition
  • Inability to obtain necessary care
  • Emotional distress
  • Fatality, in extreme cases

Patient abandonment is a form of medical malpractice. According to our medical malpractice statistics research, medical malpractice ranks as the third leading cause of death in the US.

Healthcare providers also put themselves at risk by abandoning a patient. They may face consequences, including:

  • Personal injury lawsuits
  • Discipline or revocation of their healthcare license
  • Damage to their professional reputation and job prospects

Patient Abandonment Examples

So, what is considered patient abandonment? Here are some examples where a finding of patient abandonment is likely.

  • A doctor stops cancer treatments abruptly without notifying their patient or arranging for patient transfer to another provider.
  • A nurse in a resident care facility walks off the job without notifying anyone of patient care needs or arranging for another nurse to take over.
  • A dentist refusing to complete dental implant treatment when the patient became unable to pay her installment part way through treatment.

Not all cases of patient abandonment are straightforward. If you aren’t sure whether you have a claim for patient abandonment, reach out to a medical malpractice lawyer for a case consultation. Fill out the form on this page to get started today.

Situations That Are Not Patient Abandonment

There are times when a healthcare provider needs to end a patient’s treatment. Here are some reasons a healthcare provider might need to stop treatment that would not be considered patient abandonment:

  • Care is required beyond what the healthcare professional can provide
  • A patient refuses to follow care recommendations
  • A patient behaves inappropriately or abusively towards the healthcare provider
  • The healthcare provider does not have the resources to treat the patient
  • A patient violates policies or repeatedly misses appointments

Even with a valid reason, the healthcare provider needs to provide their patient with notice of care termination. They also need to provide a reasonable amount of time for the patient to find a new healthcare provider. During this time, necessary care should be continued. Once a new healthcare provider takes over care, patient records should be shared by the prior provider to ensure care continues at a good standard.

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When Do Most Cases of Patient Abandonment Occur?

Patient abandonment can occur at any time after a healthcare provider has begun treatment. When healthcare providers fail to adequately communicate to patients or ensure continuing care, they run the risk of abandoning the patient.

One point in care that can lead to an increased risk of patient abandonment is during transitions between care providers. This can happen, for example, when a patient transitions from hospital care to home-based care. Discharging a patient from hospital too soon can place their health in jeopardy and may be considered patient abandonment.

Another scenario that may lead to patient abandonment comes up when a patient falls behind on paying for their care. Ongoing treatment, such as dental treatment that requires several visits, cannot be ceased at a point that leaves the patient’s health at risk. Patients who have unexpected financial trouble or face sudden changes to their health insurance cannot be simply dropped from care. At a minimum, healthcare providers are expected to continue emergency care to keep a patient’s health intact.

How To Report Patient Abandonment

If you have not addressed the situation with your healthcare provider directly, you may want to start by reaching out to them. You may also contact your state medical board or nursing board if a complaint is appropriate against the healthcare provider’s license.

For many patients who have experienced patient abandonment, the best option is to contact a lawyer. A medical malpractice lawyer can evaluate your situation and provide advice on how to proceed.

Fill out the form on this page to connect with a lawyer in your area.

When To File a Patient Abandonment Lawsuit

If you believe a healthcare provider has abandoned your treatment and you have suffered harm as a result, then pursuing a legal claim could provide relief. A lawyer may be able to negotiate a settlement, or they can file a lawsuit on your behalf.

Proving Patient Abandonment Claims: The Legal Standard

Successful patient abandonment lawsuits must prove all of the following elements:

  • You had a patient - provider relationship with the healthcare provider
  • The healthcare provider abandoned you when you still required medical treatment
  • The abandonment did not leave you with reasonable time to find a replacement healthcare provider
  • You suffered harm as a direct result of the abandonment

Compensation In Patient Abandonment Lawsuits

A patient abandonment claim is a form of medical malpractice personal injury lawsuit. You may be eligible to receive compensation that includes:

  • Medical treatment costs
  • Lost wages from missing work
  • Non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering compensation

Medical malpractice payouts can climb into the millions, depending on the specifics of your situation. To evaluate your claim and get a compensation estimate, reach out to a lawyer to review your case. Fill out the form on this page to get started today.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Yes. Patient abandonment can be committed by any healthcare provider. Nurses who fail to provide care for their patients or secure alternative care run the risk of committing patient abandonment.

  • Hospitals can be held responsible for patient abandonment by the healthcare providers they employ in some states. A common example of this occurs when a hospital fails to adequately staff their facility to care for the patients admitted.

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