While medical offices typically have good cause to dismiss patients who are violent or abusive, doctors and healthcare attorneys say they should be (and generally are) more circumspect in other types of frustrating but ultimately resolvable situations.
Joel Wakefield, JD, a healthcare attorney with the Nelson Law Group in Phoenix, Arizona, says noncompliance with medication or other aspects of physician care is probably the most common situation his physician clients face, and part of their concern is that they could still be liable if a patient’s health worsens.
“They’re trying to take care of the patient, but they see the patient not being involved,” he says. “It is a combination of some people simply saying, ‘No, I’m not going to do that,’ especially if the treatment is uncomfortable or makes them feel weird, but it can blend into passive-aggressiveness, as well.”
This happens most often with patients who have multiple medical problems, or chronic mental health problems such as schizophrenia that interfere with their ability to comprehend their physician’s instructions or to properly care for themselves, says Gary LeRoy, MD, a primary care physician with East Dayton Health Center in Dayton, Ohio.
But sometimes, a patient simply has a different agenda than his or her doctor, LeRoy says, based on an honest difference in priorities. “I might want to get their diabetes controlled, and talk to them about their labs. Their agenda might be that ‘my back hurts, and I want to get Vicodin.’”