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Failure to refer to a specialist: A type of malpractice

Most people rely on their family doctors for just about everything -- whether they're suffering from a common cold or they're experiencing trouble with chronic pain -- they expect their family physician to guide them toward the right treatment.

In fact, many times, they don't have any choice but to rely on the family physician because a lot of medical insurance companies have made the primary practitioner the "gateway" to any specialist care they might need. And if the insurance company doesn't require a referral, many specialists do.

What does that mean for you, if you're the patient?

You may have a gut feeling that your weight loss is abnormal and signals something is wrong with your body, but if your doctor dismisses your fears and doesn't see fit to refer you to someone else for testing, there isn't much you can do about it except wait and worry -- and hope that nothing is seriously wrong.

There are also a number of family physicians who refuse to recognize their own limits. When a patient has a complex problem that is over the primary care physician's head, he or she has a moral -- and legal -- obligation to refer that patient to someone who has more skill if that's what is generally expected by his or her peers.

The failure to refer a patient to a specialist can have disastrous implication for any patient. If you have a condition that's progressive, you may lose out on a chance to halt the damage that's being done to your body or even save your life. If you're suffering from a condition that could be easily treated by someone with more skill, you may suffer unnecessarily for months or years at the hands of a primary care physician who can't or won't admit his or her failings.

If you've suffered significant injuries or intense pain due to your primary care doctor's failure to refer you to a specialist when he or she should have, an attorney can provide advice and guidance. .

Source: blogs.harvard.edu, "Of Competence and Referrals: When a Doctor's Failure to Refer a Patient to another Physician Constitutes Malpractice," accessed Aug. 11, 2017

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