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 life. The doctors have certain rights to handle situations like patient-doctor disputes, online defamation, unreasonable refund requests, meritless litigation, and other issues.

A doctor can refuse to treat some of their patients in certain situations. However, the rights to medical treatment denial are not that flexible. The doctors cannot refuse a patient in an emergency or if the patient needs urgent medical attention.

When Can a Doctor Refuse to Offer Treatment?

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

1. Avoid Litigation

The doctor can refuse to treat a patient to avoid any litigation. It generally happens in the case of certain unfortunate events like suicide attempts, murder attempts, or fights. It can lead to a simple case of litigation.

Due to potential complications, many doctors decide not to participate in this experience. However, this behavior is ethically questionable, but it cannot be claimed to be illegal.

2. The Patient is Unable to Pay

A doctor can refuse to offer medical care if the patient is unable to pay for their services. It is one of the most common reasons for refusing treatment. The 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 is always required to 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 offer treatments to patients without any medical insurance. The medical staff may also decline to treat a patient if their insurance is not accepted in that specific clinic for some reason.

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

4. Religious Cause or Conscience

According to the American Medical Association, doctors can deny any medical procedure that goes against their moral ideology. Abortion, especially for unmarried women, is the most common medical procedure that doctors refuse to treat due to their conscience.

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 get really impatient and aggressive while waiting for their turn at the clinic. The physician has the right to refer them to other doctors or simply refuse to offer them medical care.

6. Patients Who Do Not Follow Instruction

Doctors often recommend different tests, medical procedures, diagnostic examinations, radiographic examinations, and other procedures that are important for the treatment. If a patient refuses to follow these instructions, the doctor can always refer them to someone else.

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 creates a conflict with the duties of the physician, they can refer the patient to someone else 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 there is an unnecessary delay in the treatment process that 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

If a healthcare provider has a doctor-patient relationship with someone and refuses to continue their medical care without any reasonable notice, the patient may file a patient abandonment claim.

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.


The doctor’s authority to deny a patient medical care is extremely broad. They may decline to provide medical care to a patient under certain circumstances. However, they can always talk to the patient’s family or refer them to other experts. In this case, the doctors are required to 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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