Is it Medical Misconduct to Refuse Treatment?

In an emergency, your first instinct as a physician should be to treat a patient. However, outstanding circumstances may make you hesitant to administer such treatment. This may leave you in an ethical dilemma where you do not know which treatment path to take. Read on to discover whether it is considered medical misconduct to refuse the treatment of a patient and how one of the seasoned New York physician defense lawyers at Walker Medical Law can work tirelessly to defend your actions.

Under what circumstances is it acceptable to refuse treatment?

Generally speaking, it is expected for a physician to provide care to any patient who requires it. However, there are a few circumstances in which it is acceptable for a physician to deny care, and they read as follows:

  • A physician may determine that a patient is exhibiting signs of drug-seeking behavior rather than requiring actual care.
  • A physician may determine that a patient is disruptive, difficult to handle, or otherwise against the treatment plan they wish to administer.
  • A physician may not be specialized in treating the specific condition that a patient is suffering from (i.e., a pediatrician cannot treat an adult patient’s cancer).
  • A physician may be against the treatment plan a patient is seeking due to their personal religious beliefs (i.e., performing an abortion, prescribing narcotics, etc).

It is worth mentioning that, if a physician ultimately decides to stop treating a patient, it is common courtesy to give two to four weeks of advanced notice. This is so a patient may have adequate time to locate a new physician able and willing to provide healthcare.

When is it considered medical misconduct to refuse the treatment of a patient?

On the other hand, there are other circumstances in which a physician’s refusal to provide treatment is invalid, and more importantly, illegal. More specific examples read as follows:

  • A physician may refuse to treat a patient of a protected class (i.e., race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc).
  • A physician may refuse to treat a patient in an emergency due to their inability to pay or provide proof of insurance.
  • A physician may refuse to provide additional treatment after an emergency, even while their condition is still unstable.
  • A physician may refuse to treat a patient in active labor and whose condition is still unstable.

Therefore, if a patient believes you refused treatment for any of the above reasons, they may file a complaint with the New York State Department of Health’s Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) or Office of Professional Discipline (OPD). This may ultimately lead to a medical misconduct charge placed against you, with serious penalties threatening your ability to practice medicine.

Undoubtedly, there is much to consider before defending against a medical misconduct complaint. This is why your next order of business should be to initiate a conversation with one of the competent New York physician defense lawyers. Someone at Walker Medical Law will await your phone call.