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Tips to Help Avoid Patient Abandonment During This Time

Continue to communicate with your patients to help avoid any potential claims of patient abandonment.

Closing your practice, even for what we hope is a short time, raises a certain concern. What if a patient alleges you have “abandoned” them? 

What is Patient Abandonment?

To make sure we are all on the same page, “abandonment” is an alleged form of healthcare malpractice that can arise when a healthcare provider terminates the doctor-patient relationship without reasonable notice or a reasonable excuse, and fails to provide the patient with an opportunity to find a new healthcare provider. Usually, when terminating a doctor-patient relationship, you need to provide the patient 30 days’ notice (subject to state jurisdiction) and refer them to your local medical society or similar organization (not friends) to find replacement care.

When it comes to a possible allegation of abandonment arising during a crisis, it should be noted that you are not terminating the doctor-patient relationship, you are simply complying with recommendations and orders from state/federal organizations to limit interactions. Limiting patient contact for safety reasons is for the benefit of both your staff and the patient. Not following the guidelines puts all involved at greater risk and should be avoided. Patient safety comes first. 

Communication Ideas 

Communication is key now. This is the time to learn or brush up on your social media skills. Reach out to your patients to let them know what steps you are taking during this time. One thing we all crave at this moment is social contact (at a distance), even if it is just a text, email or call from someone who has been involved in our care.

Let them know your preferred method of contact and make sure your online business information is current. Your current patients may not know you have a website and potentially new patients will be able to find you. While it is too early to go into detail for your plans for their well-being after this crisis is over, you might send a quick note to let them know you are available via telehealth visits, for example, if they feel they are having a situation they feel you need to address.

Additional ideas for communicating:

  • Send an email updating patients on your status, offer guidelines for how to stay connected, and let them know how to contact you if they have an emergency.
  • If you have a website, provide important information and links to reputable sites. Tip: if you are providing information, just like in college, cite your source as it increases your credibility. 
  • If you are getting frequently asked questions, write a blog or post about it. Most likely others have the same question.
  • Remember, with social media, it is important to maintain boundaries. Ideally, you’ll communicate with your patients via your practice’s business page rather than your personal?social media pages.

Document Everything

As always, documentation is important. Create an office administrative log for key dates such as when you:

  • Stopped or started limiting patient visits
  • Started offering telehealth interactions
  • Return to regular practice hours, etc.

This log will help you to remember years from now (should a claim arise) of what was going on — although we are not likely to forget the spring of 2020, we may not remember key dates.

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