Yes. In certain situations, a doctor can refuse to treat a patient. Nevertheless, doctors cannot refuse to treat patients who are in immediate need of care. Emergency department doctors, for instance, have a legal obligation to treat anyone who shows up in front of them.
When Can Doctors Refuse to Treat?
According to Stat News, physicians can ethically refuse to treat patients who are abusive, when such treatment falls outside their scope of practice, and when a patient’s care comes into conflict with the physician’s duties. For example, a doctor could refuse to prescribe you antibiotics for a viral infection, or a cardiologist could refuse to treat you for back pain and refer you to someone else.
Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat Me If I Cannot Afford to Pay?
Yes. The most common reason for refusing to treat a patient is the patient’s potential inability to pay for the required medical services. Still, doctors cannot refuse to treat patients if that refusal will cause harm.
Most doctors request payment or insurance information when patients schedule their first appointment because they will be obligated to treat someone who shows up for an appointment in urgent need of care.
If someone schedules an appointment for a urinary tract infection (UTI), for example, and the doctor refuses to treat them, the doctor could face liability for delaying care and allowing the UTI to advance into a kidney infection. This is primarily because the doctor will have a hard time explaining to the jury why they did not provide care for an evident UTI when the patient waited for an appointment.
Why Else Might a Doctor Refuse to Treat Me?
Doctors cannot refuse to accept a person for ethnic, racial, or religious reasons nor discriminate against a patient based on their sex (unless the doctor’s specialty is based on sex).
Still, some doctors choose not to treat certain classes of patients, and many physicians refuse to treat patients involved in car crashes or accidents that will lead to litigation. Some physicians also refuse to treat attorneys. These decisions are usually made to avoid liability and stay out of court.
A Note on Reproductive Care
Although some obstetricians will not treat a pregnant woman who does not seek care within the first 6 months of pregnancy, no doctor can refuse to deliver a child, particularly in a hospital or emergency room setting. Similarly, reproductive doctors cannot refuse to perform an abortion that would preserve the mother’s health – even if abortion is against their religion.
Even abortions that are not medically necessary are part of health care and a woman’s right to privacy and bodily autonomy. As such, reproductive specialists should not object to performing abortions.
Can I Sue a Doctor for Refusing to Treat Me?
As a rule of thumb, if unnecessary delays in care may cause irreparable harm, physicians can face legal liability for their refusal to treat.
If you need urgent medical attention, and a doctor refuses to treat you, you can pursue a medical malpractice suit against the physician and/or the establishment they work for. This is especially true for doctors in hospitals and emergency rooms.
In cases where you already have a doctor-patient relationship with your provider, you may also have a patient abandonment claim if your doctor terminates your care without reasonable notice or excuse during a critical stage of the treatment process.
As with all medical malpractice cases, you must sustain an injury to file a claim. If you have been harmed by a doctor’s abandonment or refusal to treat you, Attorney David Kates can help. David has over 20 years of professional legal experience and prepares every case as if it is going to trial. He takes a tenacious and thorough approach to complex medical issues and provides personalized attention to each client.
For the results-driven legal help you deserve, please contact the Law Office of David A. Kates, PLLC at (718) 866-3664 or send us a message online – and don’t forget to schedule your free consultation.