Can Doctors Fire Patients?

It’s well known that dissatisfied patients may opt to find another doctor who can better suit their needs. But can this health care relationship be reversed? Across the range of physician specialties, we’re hearing more and more about doctors who are choosing to dismiss their patients for any number of reasons. On the surface, such decisions may seem like a slippery slope — who’s to say doctors won’t just cease providing care to whoever they choose?!

Can Doctors Fire Patients?

In reality, there is a range of legal and medical considerations that can help answer these questions. There are, of course, circumstances where doctors aren’t able to simply dismiss patients or deny them access to their medical expertise. However, no matter your physician specialty, firing patients is sometimes the necessary step to take in order to avoid further legal complications or redirect them to better options. Whatever the reason, we’ll answer the question: Can doctors fire patients?

can doctors fire patients

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When Doctors May Dismiss Patients

Physicians interact with just about every type of person out there, the good, bad, and the downright unruly. As professionals looking to create the best possible outcomes for each patient, there will inevitably be situations where doctors have to put their foot down regarding their healthcare relationships. Luckily for both patients and physicians, there are distinct guidelines provided by the American Medical Association (AMA) outlining under which circumstances doctors can choose to terminate a patient relationship.

Based on the AMA’s Code of Ethics, reasons doctors can fire patients include:

  • Non-compliant Patients: If a patient willfully fails to follow a physician’s recommendations, creating excessive liabilities and difficulties for the practice or facility.
  • Patient’s Failure to Keep Appointments: Whether they are constantly canceling appointments at the very last minute or fail to show up whatsoever, the reoccurrence of this situation can be both costly for physicians and their other patients who could have received early treatments in the now fired patient’s place.
  • Excessively Rude or Obnoxious Behavior: Although dealing with health issues can cause people to become frustrated, those who frequently subject their physicians to verbal abuse can be dismissed and redirected to another facility or practice.
  • Avoiding Bill Payments: This mostly refers to money patients owe personally, and not that which is covered by their insurance.
  • A Practice is Closing: Whether a doctor sells their practice, they retire, or just closes their doors, this situation logically warrants the dismissal of patients.

When Doctors Cannot Dismiss Patients

So, can doctors fire patients? Absolutely! But it’s not to say they will do so on a whim — there are still situations in which physicians may not be justified in dismissing their patients. Based on state and federal laws, patients cannot be denied care or treatment for the following reasons:

  • Discrimination: This includes the denial of care based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other attribute nationally and legally recognized as a form of discrimination.
  • To Provide Continuity of Care: Physicians are unable to dismiss patients during a period when they are receiving care. For example, a pregnant woman cannot be dismissed just weeks before her delivery date. This does not include patients on a primary care physician’s roster, but who have not visited the doctor in over a year.

How Dismissing Patients Happens

Currently, several states have laws governing the proper process physicians should take when dismissing patients. In most cases, however, the protocol for dismissal is based mainly on the ethics surrounding the physician-patient relationship and a doctor’s responsibility to their patients. Again, using the AMA’s Code of Ethics as a guide to navigating these situations is key to avoiding any potential legal complications or violations of someone’s rights.

Can doctors fire patients out of the blue? Yes and no…

The optimal situation for patients involves receiving a postal letter providing 30 days notice of the physician’s ultimate decision, access to their health records, and (ideally) suggestions for a new provider. The worst case scenario is that they will receive no notice whatsoever — however, this is usually reserved for those who are obviously in the wrong.

So just to recap — Can doctors fire patients? You bet! It’s all just heavily reliant on the circumstances surrounding the decision from both ethical and legal standpoints. It’s not always a clean and tidy process, but dismissing patients is a necessary evil that many physicians will experience throughout their career.

And remember — if you’d rather find new physician jobs rather than deal with unmanageable patients, has got you covered!

Author: Connor Smith

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