There's a key difference between a doctor dropping a patient and abandonment

Patients have the right to fire a physician for any reason or no reason at all. Doctors, too, have that right, so long as they meet certain requirements.

At Painter Law Firm, we’ve met with clients from time to time who’ve shared how their doctors dropped them as patients, leaving them in harm’s way, without a new provider. This conduct violates the standard of care and Texas Medical Board rules.

Two of the common reasons that a doctor may want to terminate a physician-patient relationship are patient noncompliance and not getting paid.


Healthcare is truly an exercise of teamwork. Sometimes both doctors and patients forget this.

On the physician side, it’s common to see them ignore information and complaints provided by patients. Some doctors rush to a conclusion and seemingly won’t consider signs and symptoms that are inconsistent with their thinking.

On the patient side, there exists sometimes the problem of noncompliance, which means that the patient is not following the treatment recommendations of the doctor. This includes things like not taking the medications prescribed by the doctor, repeatedly canceling appointments, or not being completely honest.

Understandably, when a patient is unwilling to participate as a team member in his own care, a doctor may decide to terminate the physician-patient relationship.


Another common reason that doctors decide to fire patients is when their bills aren’t paid. This may happen when patients don’t pay their out-of-pocket responsibility or won’t cooperate with insurance filings.

What does a doctor have to do to fire a patient?

While doctors are generally allowed to fire a patient, it’s more complicated than that.

There are some circumstances when a physician flat-out can’t fire a patient:

• The doctor is on call in an emergency room

• The physician is treating a hospitalized patient

• A surgeon is treating a patient after an operation (post-operative care)

In these situations, the physician must continue caring for the patient until she is stabilized, or another doctor agrees to take over the patient’s care. Surgeons are obligated to continue care until post-operative care is no longer needed.

If these issues don’t apply, a physician can fire a patient with reasonable notice. Put another way, Texas Administrative Code Section 190.8 provides that a doctor violates Texas Medical Board rules and is engaging in a practice inconsistent with public health and welfare when terminating patient care without providing reasonable notice to the patient.

What constitutes reasonable notice is a question that’s individualized for each patient. If the patient needs continued medical treatment, reasonable notice would be the time it would take for the patient to find a new doctor of a similar specialty.

When physicians terminate their relationship with a patient without reasonable notice, it sets them up for a claim of patient abandonment. Simply put, patient abandonment is a type of negligence claim arising from a physician’s firing of a patient without reasonable notice when the patient still needs continuing medical care. In some situations, abandonment by a physician can needlessly put a patient in life-and-death peril.

If you’ve been seriously injured because a physician has fired or dropped you as a patient, then contact a top-rated experienced Houston, Texas medical malpractice lawyer for help in evaluating your potential case.

Robert Painter
Article by

Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.