Patient Abandonment: When an Ended Relationship Becomes Malpractice

Have you ever been broken up with in a relationship, or had a close friend suddenly stop talking to you? Abandonment, regardless of the relationship, is heartbreaking and emotional, but most people manage to eventually move on. When the situation involves a doctor and a patient, however, it is much more complicated.

Defining Medical Abandonment

Patient abandonment is a form of medical malpractice. It occurs when a physician terminates the doctor-patient without reasonable notice or a reasonable excuse, and fails to provide the patient with the opportunity to find a replacement healthcare provider. Like with other forms of medical malpractice, the first step of determining patient abandonment is seeing if a doctor-patient relationship existed. This exists when the patient hires the doctor, and the doctor agrees. If a patient is treating with a physician, this relationship is very easy to prove.

If a doctor-patient relationship did exist prior to the medical abandonment, the next steps are to prove that:

  • The abandonment took place when the patient was still in a critical stage of their treatment process
  • The abandonment took place so suddenly that the patient did not have the time or resources to find a replacement physician to take over their treatment
  • The patient suffered an injury as a direct result of the abandonment

When a doctor or other healthcare provider abruptly and unreasonably terminates a relationship with a patient, they are putting the patient at risk. Without a doctor, the patient could lose the opportunity to receive necessary treatment, medications, or important medical advice. As a result, their health could quickly deteriorate, leading to lasting complications or death. Medical abandonment also puts a financial and emotional burden on the patient and their families, as it forces them to struggle to find a new healthcare provider.

Not Always Malpractice

It’s important to remember, though, that the termination of a doctor-patient relationship is not always medical malpractice. A relationship is reasonably and properly terminated if:

  • The physician and the patient mutually agree to terminate the relationship
  • The patient fires the physician
  • The physician terminates the relationship after giving the patient notice and a reasonable amount of time to find a replacement physician

Similarly, the termination of a relationship is probably not medical malpractice if:

  • The doctor has insufficient skills to provide adequate treatment, or there are insufficient supplies or resources to treat the patient
  • Ethical or legal complications arise during the treatment process
  • The patient violates the physician’s polices or refuses to comply with their recommendations
  • The patient has consistently missed or cancelled appointments
  • Inappropriate behavior, like sexual harassment or verbal abuse, occurs

To prevent issues of medical abandonment, both patients and physicians should put effort into maintaining the relationship. Patients should try to make all appointments, and should try to remember that their doctor is doing their best to help them. Both parties should always be respectful and address any concerns. When both the doctor and the patient act with respect, an issue is less likely to arise, and both parties can enjoy a strong, positive relationship.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.


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