Nobody likes to end up in the hospital -- but some patients seem to really hate being there. In fact, some patients will eventually choose to leave a hospital against medical advice, or "AMA." If a patient ends ups suffering a significant injury as a result of his or her decision to leave a hospital AMA, can the doctor or hospital be held liable? The answer may surprise you. Here's what you should know.
Your Right To Choose
Studies have estimated that about 2% of patients eventually choose to leave a hospital against medical advice. Some of them are simply frustrated because they don't think their treatment is helping, some worry about the cost of treatment, and some simply feel well enough that they want to leave -- despite their doctors' concerns.
Unfortunately, AMA discharges are associated with a fairly high rate of emergency readmissions. On average, your risk of ending up right back in the hospital again if you leave AMA is about seven times higher than it would be if you listen to the doctor and stay put. For the most part, though, you still have the right to determine the extent of the medical care that you do or do not receive. Staying or leaving is essentially your decision.
The Doctor's Obligation To Stop You
There are times, however, when your right to make that decision has to be curtailed -- and it's your doctor's responsibility to make that call. Your doctor has an obligation to make sure that you are aware of the risks to your health from an AMA discharge. In addition, if you are suffering from any condition that may be impairing your ability to make a rational decision, your doctor has an obligation to prevent you from leaving against medical advice.
For example, imagine that someone comes into the hospital with a significant head injury after a bar fight. He was found unconscious and is still highly intoxicated. The doctor orders an MRI and some x-rays, which show that the patient has a fractured skull -- but the patient insists that he simply wants to go home and sleep. If the doctor allows the patient to leave and the patient later dies from the head injury, the patient's family may still be able to hold the doctor liable for letting the patient leave. His state of intoxication could have been severe enough to impair his ability to understand his risks and make an informed decision.
The Signed Release That Doesn't Mean Much
Doctors and hospitals may try to excuse themselves from liability for these kinds of events because a patient signed a form acknowledging that he or she was choosing to leave AMA -- but that's not exactly worth much if the patient wasn't capable of actually understanding his or her risk. Don't assume that you don't have a case for medical malpractice in these kinds of situations until you've spoken to an attorney.
For more information, contact your local medical malpractice lawyers services.