Is Physician – Patient Relationship a Contract?

Discussion Prompt

You are working as the manager of a multispecialty clinic. You have been notified that a patient has filed a lawsuit against one of your physicians that has terminated a relationship with a patient. Executive management has asked you to prepare a memo to describe whether a patient can make a successful claim for a breach of contract in this case. 

Sample Answer

Is Physician – Patient Relationship a Contract?

Physicians have legal and ethical duty toward their patients as long as they have committed themselves in providing these services and that the patients still needs them. There may be no written contract to define this relationship, however, the verbal committed of a doctor toward a patient and the patient trust toward a doctor creates a binding agreement which is recognized by the law, and which can be ascertained by medical recorded related to patient’s visits to the physician’s office (Portmann, 2000). Nevertheless there might be times when a physician might no longer be in a position of offering care to a patient he or she had committed to. This can occur due to a number of reasons. It might be the patient is making unreasonable demands, is noncompliant with provided medical instructions, threatening the physicians or his or her junior staffs or maybe contributing to general breakdown of physician-patient relationship. This may also be due to the physician inability to handle the patient condition due to lack of specialty in advance condition development or lack of needed facilities. Most of these reasons may be acceptable in termination of the physician-patient relationship; however, it must be done in a manner that does not indicate patient abandonment. Patient abandonment occurs when physician-patient relationship is terminated by a physician without a reasonable excuse or reasonable notice, and fails to offer the patient a chance to find a qualified care provider to replace the physician initiating a termination.

Can the Patient Make a Successful Claim for a Breach of Contract ?

In this case, there was a premature termination of patient-physician relationship, with clear demonstration of patient dissatisfaction on how the process was carried out. Based on the law, a patient can successful make a claim of a breach of contract, he or she must be able prove that patient abandonment occurred in the process. This is a fact specific issue, and for it to stand in a court of law, the patient must be able to prove that she or he was abandoned. The patient must be able to demonstrate that the physician had already committed himself into treating him or her and that the treatment was underway.  The patient must also demonstrate that the physician abandoned him or her when still in great need of medical care or in critical phase in the treatment process. He or she must be able to prove that the right termination procedures, which may include patient referral or prior notification with adequate time to look for replacement, were not followed. The patient must be able to demonstrate that the termination was abrupt and no reasonable reasons were provided by the physician for the abrupt termination of the physician-patient relationship (Chowdri, 2018). The patient should also be able to demonstrate that the physician did not offer any referral or guidance to obtain another qualified physician who can handle the patient case after the termination. Patient should also be able to demonstrate there were damages or injuries that took place as a result of the physician behavior. The claim will strongly stand if the physician will not be able to justify his behavior based on the patient situation or the circumstances that surrounded the termination, and to demonstrate that the right procedures were followed (Chowdri, 2018). Whether or not the claim of breach of contract or patient abandonment occurred will be determined by the evidence surrounding the patient’s claim. The hospital can thus maybe consider investigating the circumstances that resulted to this termination to get clear perception of this case.


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