Liability issues after dismissing a patient

August 26, 2008

I have a patient who has been noncompliant for several years and I have sent him a letter of dismissal. I still have not heard back regarding where he wants his medical records sent and he is on several medications that must be refilled soon. I'm sure he's going to try to request refills again after 30 days. One of his medications needs to be monitored closely and cannot be discontinued for any length of time if it is to remain effective. Can I be held liable in any way if I deny his request for refills after the 30 day period?

Q: I have a patient who has been noncompliant for several years and I have sent him a letter of dismissal.  I still have not heard back regarding where he wants his medical records sent and he is on several medications that must be refilled soon. I'm sure he's going to try to request refills again after 30 days.  One of his medications needs to be monitored closely and cannot be discontinued for any length of time if it is to remain effective. Can I be held liable in any way if I deny his request for refills after the 30 day period? 

A: Assuming that your letter of dismissal was sent by certified mail, and that you have a receipt indicating it was received, and that your letter instructed him on his need to have his medications refilled and monitored closely, you should not have liability beyond a thirty day period unless, for some reason, the patient, despite best efforts, has been unable to obtain alternative medical care.  If the patient returns and indicates that he has been unsuccessful in obtaining other care (and care is not for some reason available in an emergency room or other facility setting) it may be prudent to provide one additional 30 day extension and assist the patient in finding other care.

The author is a health law attorney with Kern Augustine Conroy & Schoppman in Bridgewater, New Jersey, Lake Success, New York, and Philadelphia. He can be reached by e-mail atkern@drlaw.com.

The answers to these queries are general opinions and are not intended as substitutes for legal advice. You should not rely on these replies in making decisions involving questions of law, but should instead consult with competent legal counsel.