Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat a Patient?

Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat a Patient – Overview

Healthcare experts experience several complications with their patients throughout their lives. The doctors have certain rights to handle patient-doctor disputes, online defamation, unreasonable refund requests, meritless litigation, and other issues.

A doctor can refuse to treat patients in specific situations. However, the law restricts refusal in emergencies or when urgent medical attention is needed.

When Can a Doctor Refuse to Offer Treatment?

A doctor can refuse to treat a patient in the following 7 situations

1. Avoid Litigation

Refusing treatment to preemptively avoid litigation, especially in cases involving harm to oneself or others, is not standard practice. Ethical standards typically require doctors to provide necessary care irrespective of potential legal outcomes.

Due to potential complications, many doctors decide not to participate in this experience. Refusing treatment solely to avoid litigation raises ethical and legal concerns, contradicting professional standards.

2. The Patient is Unable to Pay

One of the most common reasons for refusing treatment is that a doctor can refuse to offer medical care if the patient is unable to pay for it. Medical providers can also deny their services if the patient has not paid earlier bills.

The doctor can issue a letter to the patient and inform them about the termination of this patient-doctor relationship for nonpayment of previous bills. They can also refer the patient to another doctor to complete their treatment.

However, the doctor must always provide care in an emergency or if the patient has a condition that risks their life.

3. Lack of Medical Insurance

Doctors can also refuse to treat patients without medical insurance. The medical staff may also decline to treat a patient if their insurance is not accepted in that clinic for some reason.

However, these patients can receive treatment if they are ready to pay the bill.

4. Religious Cause or Conscience

The AMA guidelines allow doctors to decline procedures conflicting with their personal beliefs but do not specify refusal based on marital status. Abortion is mentioned as a procedure that may be declined on moral grounds without reference to the patient’s marital status.

5. Difficult Patient

At times, doctors come across different patients with certain behavioral issues. They can immediately refuse to treat patients with destructive behavior or drug-seeking patients. Physicians also have multiple rights to deal with these situations.

Some patients become impatient and aggressive while waiting for their turn at the clinic. The physician can refer them to other doctors or simply refuse to provide them with medical care.

6. Patients Who Do Not Follow Instruction

Doctors often recommend different tests, medical procedures, diagnostic examinations, radiographic examinations, and other important procedures for treatment. If a patient consistently refuses to follow medical advice, a doctor may consider terminating the relationship after ensuring the patient has access to alternative care rather than ‘always’ referring them.

7. Conflicted Duties

Healthcare experts can refuse to offer medical care when the treatment is outside their scope of practice. If a patient’s care conflicts with the physician’s duties, they can refer the patient to someone with similar medical expertise.

Can a Patient Sue a Doctor for Refusing to Treat Them?

A patient can sue their doctors for treatment refusal in the following 4 situations –

Can a Doctor Refuse to Treat a Patient

Can a Patient Sue a Doctor for Refusing to Treat Them?

1. Causing Any Harm

If an unnecessary delay in the treatment process causes severe harm to the patient, the physicians can face legal liability for refusing to treat them.

2. Emergency Care

If a physician refuses to treat a patient when he needs urgent medical attention, the patient can pursue a medical malpractice suit against the doctor. It is mostly applicable to the emergency care departments of a hospital.

3. Termination without Significant Reason

The patient may file an abandonment claim if a healthcare provider has a doctor-patient relationship with someone and refuses to continue their medical care without reasonable notice.

It is more applicable if the doctor refuses to offer treatment during a crucial stage of the treatment process.

4. Disability

If a doctor refuses to offer treatment to someone based on their disability, they can take legal steps against the doctor. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a doctor can only refuse to treat a disabled person if they have any significant threat to others’ safety.


Doctors may decline to provide medical care to a patient under certain circumstances. Doctors should ensure continuity of care by appropriately referring patients when refusing treatment, but communication with the patient’s family depends on the patient’s consent due to privacy laws. In this case, the doctors must provide a certified letter stating the cause and other supporting documentation, including the patient’s medical history.

See Also

Medical Law and Ethics in the US

Medical Malpractice Laws

HIPAA Medical Release Laws

Best Medical Malpractice Law Firms

Self Prescribing Laws by State

MD vs DO

How to Get a Prescription Refill Without a Doctor?

Doctor Work Life Balance

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