Thinking of Leaving the Hospital Before You Are Discharged? Do So at Your Own Risk

A recent report released by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality shows an alarming rise in the number of patients who are leaving hospitals, emergency rooms and urgent care clinics before they are properly discharged. The agency examined data dating back to 1997 and found that the number of patients leaving against medical advice has increased nearly 40 percent since then. Hospital discharge information for 2008 - the most recent year such data was available - show that roughly 370,000 patients left before discharge.

The report cited a number of reasons for why patients are leaving hospitals early, including:

  • Impatience - emergency room waiting times are increasing as a struggling economy forces hospitals to close and more people to lose the health care coverage that would have allowed them to be examined by a primary care physician in a less-hurried setting; many patients get tired of waiting and choose to leave without receiving proper care
  • Frustration that they are not receiving quality care
  • Financial constraints - patients without comprehensive health insurance may fear the costs associated with prolonged hospitalization or invasive tests
  • Lack of a social support system that gives them access to child care for children they have at home
  • The burden of being the sole or primary financial provider for their family
  • Disagreements/personality conflicts with the treating physician

Regardless of why more and more patients are choosing to leave hospital facilities against medical advice, the fact is that these patients are putting their health at risk by robbing themselves of quality care. Patients who leave without waiting for vital test results could be putting their very lives on the line. Furthermore, if a patient is correct about their assumption that their treating physician is not providing them with high-quality care, they could jeopardize their right to bring a claim of medical malpractice or negligence by leaving without being discharged.

Even the most skilled medical malpractice attorney might not be able to help if a patient clearly contributed to his or her injuries by leaving in spite of adequate warnings by health care providers, so any decision to leave against medical advice must be carefully weighed. If you feel like you are not getting proper medical care, ask for a second opinion or ask to speak with a supervisor. Many hospital facilities also employ patient care advocates who might be able to help you express your concerns to the treating physician in a way that will result in better care. For the purposes of preserving a possible medical negligence claim, it is important that you exhaust as many grievance methods as possible before choosing to discharge yourself.

Whether you have left against medical advice or not, if you feel like you might have a medical malpractice claim against a physician or health care facility, contact an experienced attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.