Physicians “FIRING” Patients?


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By Dr. David Edward Marcinko MBA CMP®

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Just as it is an acceptable and reasonable practice to screen incoming patients, it is acceptable and reasonable to know when to end relationships. Termination criteria are numerous and varied. Although not exhaustive, the following are situations in which termination may be appropriate and acceptable:

  • Treatment noncompliance—The patient does not or will not follow the treatment plan.
  • Follow-up noncompliance—The patient repeatedly cancels follow-up visits or is a no-show.
  • Office policy noncompliance—The patient uses weekend on-call physicians or multiple health care practitioners to obtain refill prescriptions when office policy specifies a certain number of refills between visits.
  • Verbal abuse—The patient or a family member is rude and uses improper language with office personnel, exhibits violent behavior, makes threats of physical harm, or uses anger to jeopardize the safety and well-being of office personnel with threats of violent actions.
  • Nonpayment—The patient owes a backlog of bills and has made no effort to arrange a payment plan.

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It is an acceptable practice to end a patient relationship under most conditions. There are a few situations, however, that may require additional steps or a delay of the termination. According to The Doctors Company, Laura A. Dixon JD RN,the following circumstances fall into this category:

  • If the patient is in an acute phase of treatment, termination must be delayed until the acute phase has passed. For example, if the patient is in the immediate postoperative stage or is in the process of medical workup for diagnosis, it is not advisable to end the relationship.
  • If the practitioner is the only source of medical or dental care within a reasonable driving distance, he or she may need to continue care until other arrangements can be made.
  • When the practitioner is the only source of a particular type of specialized medical or dental care, he or she is obliged to continue this care until the patient can be safely transferred to another practitioner who is able to provide treatment and follow up.
  • If the patient is a member of a prepaid health plan, the patient cannot be discharged until the practitioner has communicated with the third-party payer to request a transfer of the patient to another practitioner.
  • A patient may not be terminated solely because he or she is diagnosed with AIDS/HIV.

When the situation with the patient is such that terminating the relationship is appropriate and acceptable and none of the restrictions mentioned above are present, termination of the patient relationship should be completed formally. The patient should be put on written notice that he or she must find another health care practitioner. The written notice should be mailed to the patient by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of the letter, the original certified mail receipt, and the original certified mail return receipt (even if the patient refuses to sign for the certified letter) in the patient’s medical record.



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One Response

  1. Sebastian,
    Many thanks for the “like”.


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