The risk of turning away a patient

February 17, 2006

If we turn away one of our patients who walks in and asks to be seen without an appointment, could we be held liable if he suffers harm afterwards?

Q: If we turn away one of our patients who walks in and asks to be seen without an appointment, could we be held liable if he suffers harm afterwards?

A: Yes. You could be held liable if the plaintiff can prove you should have been able to recognize that his condition had the potential to harm him if you didn't provide immediate care. A doctor has an ethical and possibly a legal responsibility to render emergency treatment-especially to one's own patient. You yourself should make the decision whether the person needs to be seen immediately, so be sure to instruct your staff to inform you when such a patient comes in.