Doctors have a professional duty to provide care to ill or injured patients, but they are not obligated to provide treatment in every circumstance. Whether or not a refusal to treat can form the basis of a valid malpractice claim depends on several different factors.
Emergency Room Denial of Care
In the United States, people who visit emergency rooms must be provided with the care necessary to stabilize an emergency medical condition regardless of their health insurance status or ability to pay. This is outlined in the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA).
The definition of an emergency medical condition is quite broad but includes conditions that if left untreated would:
- Place the person's health in jeopardy or risk harm to the unborn child of a pregnant woman
- Cause serious impairment to the person's bodily functions
- Cause serious dysfunction of a bodily organ or part
The emergency room is allowed to deny care if the doctor has examined you and determined that your condition is not a medical emergency.
The term patient abandonment is used to refer to the improper termination of a doctor-patient relationship. To qualify as patient abandonment, the following statements must be true:
- A doctor-patient relationship has been established through previous medical treatment.
- The doctor refused to provide care when the patient was still in need of medical attention.
- The refusal to provide care was so abrupt, the patient did not have time to find an alternative healthcare provider.
- Being without medical care caused the patient to suffer an injury or worsening of a medical condition.
Doctors are allowed to terminate a patient relationship for a number of reasons, including:
- The doctor has insufficient skills or training to treat the patient's condition.
- There are insufficient supplies or resources to provide the necessary treatment.
- There are ethical or legal conflicts in treatment.
- The patient refuses to comply with treatment recommendations.
- The patient engaged in improper behavior, such as making inappropriate sexual advances, verbally abusing the doctor, or being physically aggressive.
- The patient violates the doctor's policies regarding cancelled appointments.
If a doctor wants to terminate the relationship for one of these reasons, he must provide written notice and an explanation of why care will no longer be provided after a specific date. A recommendation to a new physician and prompt transfer of medical records are also required.
Under certain circumstances, the following actions can also be considered patient abandonment:
- The facility fails to provide care due to inadequate staffing.
- The medical staff neglects to contact a patient who has missed a vital follow-up appointment.
- The support staff fails to communicate an urgent question from the patient to the doctor.
- An appointment is scheduled so far in the future that a patient suffers preventable harm due to a worsening of a preexisting condition.
Filing a Medical Malpractice Claim
If you believe you have been improperly denied medical treatment, Louisiana law requires to you file a medical malpractice claim within one year of the offense.
Medical malpractice settlements include compensation for:
- Medical expenses related to treating the condition caused by the malpractice
- Anticipated future medical needs, if you've been left permanently disabled as the result of the malpractice
- Lost wages for any time you were unable to work due to a malpractice-related injury
- Loss of future earning potential due to a malpractice-related disability
- Pain and suffering, including both physical discomfort and emotional trauma
How Neblett, Beard & Arsenault Can Help
Although it's true that the vast majority of malpractice claims are eventually settled out of court, it would be a mistake to attempt to resolve a malpractice claim without legal representation. The malpractice insurer's goal is to continue to generate a profit, which often means offering a settlement that's below the level of compensation you deserve.
The experienced legal team at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault can advocate for your interests throughout the process of resolving your claim. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.588.6303 today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.