Can a doctor refuse to see a patient if they owe money?

UPDATED: Oct 1, 2022

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Can a doctor refuse to see a patient if they owe money?

The doctor I work for keeps seeing patients even if they owe us money. He states that he must provide a letter of dismissal and 1 month of medication or he can be sued for abandonment. I’ve tried to tell him he does not have to provide services for free. If a patient owes us money they must pay or not be seen, emergency’s excluded of course.

Asked on January 24, 2019 under Malpractice Law, New Jersey


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

Doctors have no obligation to see patients who cannot pay them. The fact is that a medical practice is a business and any creditor (this includes a doctor to whom money is owed) is under no obligation to take anything less than payment in full. That having beens said, patient abandonment is a form of medical malpractice that occurs when a physician terminates the doctor-patient relationship without reasonable notice or a reasonable excuse and fails to provide the patient with an opportunity to find a qualified replacement healthcare provider. Accordingly, so long as the doctor has a reasonable excuse and does not stop seeing a patient who will be harmed by not receiving immediate medical attention, they can refuse treatment. At this point, to be certain of all of your employer's rights'responsibilities, he should consult directly with a local attorney on the matter.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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