Many times, when a patient does not feel satisfied with the medical opinion of a physician, he starts seeking for a better option. And there is nothing wrong in that. As everyone has the right, not just of choosing his physician but also of switching to another doctor. Similarly, there could be numerous odd situations where the physician might wish to deny treatment to a patient. But the question that arises here, can a doctor refuse to see a patient?,

Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat a Patient?

Yes! A doctor can refuse to treat a patient but under certain circumstances. A physician’s right of medical treatment denial is not as flexible as it is in the case of the patients. Physicians join this profession by taking an oath to serve their patients in the best possible manners. And the same oath binds them with state and federal law and restricts their rights to medical treatment denial.

Let’s find out the situations where a doctor can terminate this medicinal relationship. These may include:

Patient’s Inability to Pay for Medical Services

It’s the most common reason where a doctor can deny the medical care. Even there are some physicians who prefer to treat the patients belonging to a certain class (high) of society. In such cases, instead of refusing the patient after an appointment for treatment (where the patient waits for hours for his turn), it would be better to indicate him earlier (in the first meeting) about financial requirements of the treatment. Secondly, doctor can deny care if the patient has not paid his earlier bills. Normally, in such cases, the patient is issued a certified letter, informing him about the termination of this relationship due to non-payment of previous bills. And the patient can also be referred to another physician to continue his treatment. But if the patient comes with an extreme emergency i.e. if the patient is shot or has any other life threatening medical condition, the doctor is bound to treat the patient. And the sooner the patient gets well, he is immediately discharged to continue further treatment from some other physician.

To Avoid Litigation

This normally happens in the cases of accidents or other unfortunate incidents (fight, suicide attempt, murder attempt ,etc.) that may lead the simple medicinal case to litigation. So, there are many physicians who would deny the treatment to avoid being a part of any such complication. Though these acts of denial are questionable ethically but we can’t claim them to be illegal.

A Patient Without Medical Insurance

Another question that always occupies people’s minds, can a doctor refuse to treat a patient without medical insurance? Yes! That too is a possibility. An uninsured patient, or a patient whose insurance is not acceptable in that particular clinic, can be turned away without medical care. In case he is not turned down, he has to pay a full-priced bill.

Conscience or Religious Causes

According to the American Medical Association, doctors have the right to deny any medical procedure that is against their own moral ideology. This particularly includes the cases of abortions, especially in the unmarried women. There are several abortion refusal clauses (also known as conscience clauses) in different states of America. Each state has its own definition. Other than abortions, these conscience clauses empower the physicians to deny the treatments like sterilizations and prescribing of contraception (if their conscience is against it). These clauses are also considered as ‘religious clauses’, as some religions (catholic church) find it wrong to indulge in heinous acts like abortion. According to Frank Manion, an attorney in American Center for Law and Justice, "We're not trying to deny anybody access to treatment, we're just saying, 'Don't make your choice my choice.'

A Difficult Patient

Many times, doctors have to come across patients with strange behavioral problems. Especially, if there is a drug seeking patient, doctor can instantly decline the treatment. And we find the family of the patient in an aggressive state and protesting, how can a doctor refuse to treat a patient? Some patient’s impatient and destructive behavior, while waiting for their turn in the clinic can make the physician to refer him to some other doctor or to simply refuse the treatment. Or there are cases where patients get out of control or aggressive due to their disease. The doctor has the right to ‘fire’ such patients too.

A Patient Who Does Not Follow Doctor’s Instructions

Each physician recommends some medicinal procedures, tests, radiographic examinations etc. keeping in view the patient’s condition. In case the patient does not follow his instructions, the doctor may ask him to seek care from someone else.

What If the Patient Thinks It’s Wrong?

Being a denied patient, if you believe that you are treated wrongly and there is no significant reason behind this sudden termination, and above all, if this decision of doctor has worsened your health condition in any way (you were not treated even in emergency), patient has every right to opt for an attorney. There are malpractice attorneys, who can give you the best advice for dealing with such situation. And most importantly, how can a doctor refuse to treat a patient in a state of emergency? That would be totally illegal. So, the patient must go ahead.

Other Important Information to Know!

  • If the patient ends this physician-patient relationship on his own, doctor is not obligated to treat him any time in future. Similarly, if this relationship is terminated on mutual consent, there should be no issue to both parties.

  • Before ending this relation, it is recommended to discuss the motives and causes that are leading the doctor to make this decision. Discuss your issue with patient or with his family. Once you are done with that, the doctor’s office may issue a termination letter containing all the related info.

  • The physician might refer the patient to another doctor. That’s on his own will. In such cases, the termination letter is attached with other documentation containing the case history of the patient.


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