Can you leave a hostile patient behind?

March 7, 2008

Several of my patients have said they'd follow me to my new practice. However, there's one I'd prefer not to continue to see because he's extremely hostile and verbally abusive. Since I've been his physician in the past, am I obligated to see him at my new office?

I plan to leave my current employer to join a small group a few miles away. Several of my patients have said they'd follow me to my new practice. However, there's one I'd prefer not to continue to see because he's extremely hostile and verbally abusive. Since I've been his physician in the past, am I obligated to see him at my new office?

Not in this case. Actually, you could have discharged him at any time, since you weren't able to establish a reasonable doctor-patient relationship with him. Cut him loose before you leave. By letter, notify him that you're dismissing him as a patient, direct him to other sources of care, and offer to provide care for 30 days while he finds a new physician.

However, generally speaking, when you move to another practice, you have an obligation to let your patients know where they can reach you. Not doing so could be considered abandonment-severing the doctor-patient relationship without sufficient notice when the need for continuing care still exists.