The do's and don'ts of dismissing problem patients

Male doctor in white lab coat
“Firing” a patient shouldn’t be an easy, or frequent, decision, but physicians are well within their rights to dismiss someone in certain cases. (Getty/Saklakova)

It’s not an easy decision to reach, but sometimes a doctor may be forced to dismiss a patient. If you are faced with a similar problem, you can follow certain steps to safely and fairly terminate your relationship with a patient.

“Firing” a patient shouldn’t be an easy, or frequent, decision, but physicians are well within their rights to dismiss someone who is violent or verbally abusive toward staff, or who may be taking advantage of the doctor because of a drug addiction, according to an article from Medical Economics.

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But doctors can’t leave potentially vulnerable patients in the lurch, either, Joel Wakefield, a healthcare attorney with the Nelson Law Group in Phoenix, Arizona, said. Instead, they can follow several do's and don’ts to avoid this situation and safely, fairly dismiss a patient, including:

  • Do: Send the patient clear notification about the decision. Give at least 30 days' notice when dismissing a patient, FierceHealthcare has previously reported. A longer window of notice may be required depending on how hard it will be for the patient to find a new doctor. But have a standard letter reviewed by an attorney.
  • Do: Offer a referral and medical records, if requested. A referral may not be appropriate in all cases, but doctors should try to offer as much help as possible during the transition. Possible solutions for a leery doctor may be to direct patients to medical board websites for more general information. If the dismissal is financial, avoid withholding medical records without first checking the legal rules.
  • Don't: Leave staff unaware. Some dismissed patients may be persistent, according to the article. Protect staff members from a potentially dangerous situation by warning them and providing a script for dealing with those individuals. If staff members aren't aware that a patient has been dismissed, they may schedule appointments for the patient with another physician in your clinic or practice.
  • Don’t: Let your frustrations get the best of you. A calm, measured response can reduce the chance that a patient may sue or contact the licensure board, according to the article.