Patient Abandonment refers to withdrawal from treatment of a patient without giving reasonable notice or providing a competent replacement. Tangential to withdrawing from a case in which treatment has already begun is the refusal to initiate treatment, which many patients also take as an act of abandonment. In order to constitute abandonment, the termination of the relationship between physician and patient must have been brought about by a unilateral act of the physician. There can be no abandonment if the relationship is terminated by mutual consent or by the dismissal of the physician by the patient.
However, there are legitimate reasons across all fields of health care to cease providing treatment to a patient. For example when treatment needs exceed the ability and expertise of a health care professional, the patient is best served by having care transferred to a more qualified practitioner or when the patient acts inappropriately within the health care setting. The right of health care professionals to withdraw from the treatment of a patient, or to refuse to initiate treatment, is also supported by the American Medical Association's Principles of Medical Ethics, Principle VI: "A physician shall, in the provision of appropriate patient care, except in emergencies, be free to choose whom to serve, with who to associate, and the environment in which to provide medical services." (AMA, p. 101).
Example of some case law on Patient Abandonment.
Patient abandonment is a form of medical malpractice; "abandonment of a case by a physician without sufficient notice or adequate excuse is a dereliction of duty, and if injury results there from, the physician may be held liable in damages." [Cole v. Marshall Medical Center, 2007 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 4490 (California Unpublished Opinions 2007)]
Abandonment is the termination of the professional relationship between the physician and patient at an unreasonable time or without affording the patient the opportunity to procure an equally qualified replacement. Hill v. Medlantic Health Care Group, 933 A.2d 314 (D.C. 2007).
Alleged abandonment of patient by doctor is one type of wrong which may give rise to claim for malpractice, and abandonment generally means unilateral severance of professional relationship between doctor and patient without reasonable notice at time when there is still necessity of continuing medical attention. Lee v. Dewbre, 362 S.W.2d 900 (Tex. Civ. App. Amarillo 1962)