Much as with other important people in your life, you and your doctor share a relationship. But that goes much farther than your doctor's bedside manner and the cordial banter between the two of you when you visit.
You and your doctor have also established a legal relationship that is based on the continuity of care that is provided to you by your physician. Under the legal terms of that relationship, your doctor may not abandon you as a patient without formally notifying you of such and also justifying why they are severing the relationship.
What constitutes patient abandonment?
Not every doctor you may have seen can be at risk of allegations of patient abandonment. For instance, the Emergency Room (ER) physician who treats you for a rash likely could not be credibly accused of patient abandonment because your physician-patient relationship both began and ended there in the ER.
The same is true for a specialist you saw once to confirm a preliminary diagnosis by your primary care physician (PCP), because again, this is a relationship limited in breadth and scope by the single consultation.
You must have an established relationship
The same could not be said, however, for the PCP who treated you for the past decade, as your voluminous medical records track an established relationship of care rendered to you by your doctor.
But what about the surgeon who removed your appendix but failed to properly monitor your condition? While your relationship with the surgeon was indeed brief and perhaps a one-off, that surgeon had a duty to follow up with you after the surgery to monitor your condition.
Simply being unavailable to continue seeing you as a patient doesn't necessarily constitute patient abandonment. A doctor who suddenly fell seriously ill or who was otherwise incapacitated didn't willfully refuse to continue treating you.
To sue a doctor for malpractice due to patient abandonment, you also have to have suffered distress or some form of injury as a result of the abandonment, e.g., had a seizure due to your PCP's failure to refill your Dilantin.
Were you abandoned by your doctor?
If your health worsened or you were otherwise adversely affected by alleged patient abandonment by your physician, you may decide to take legal action.