Many doctors must deal with patients who are unwilling to follow a recommended course of treatment: they repeatedly miss appointments, refuse to provide their medical history, or are chronically late on payments. When any of these occur, terminating your relationship with a patient you don’t want to do business with can be tough.
How the court system views the dentist/patient relationship"can vary by state, but, in general, it is defined as: “Once you provide professional advice, intending the patient to rely on it, you have established a dentist/patient relationship.”
The legal definition of patient abandonment is, “A form of medical malpractice that occurs when a physician terminates the doctor-patient relationship without reasonable notice or reasonable excuse, and fails to provide the patient with an opportunity to find a qualified replacement care provider.”
A few conditions must be met for abandonment to occur:
1) A dentist/patient relationship must exist
2) The abandonment must occur when the patient is still undergoing treatment
3) The patient is not given sufficient time to find a replacement dentist
4) The patient suffers an injury as a result
When making your case to end the relationship, it is important to be able to show how the patient failed to meet your expectations.
Before dismissing a patient, check your specific state requirements as there may be unique policies or regulations in your state. The following are important legal considerations that will help you defuse any potential problems:
- Provide sufficient notice of dismissal. 30 days is generally sufficient
- You must provide care up to a logical point where the patient’s health is not in danger
- Do not include any subjective, derogatory remarks about the patient
- Help the patient find a new dentist. While you may not want to specifically name a new dentist, provide resources such as the American Dental Association
While ending any relationship is never easy, you have every right to terminate your relationship with a difficult patient. Even if a patient does not file a lawsuit, they can still file a complaint with your state Board of Dentistry. That’s why it’s so important to make sure proper documentation is in place. Immediately contact your professional liability insurer should a lawsuit or complaint be filed.