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Does Your Doctor Owe You a Good Break-up?

Posted Feb 14 2012 10:31am
On Valentine's Day, this sick chick I can't help but reflect on the number of doctor-patient relationships that I am currently managing.  In fact, I took a moment to jot them all down and I discovered that I am currently seeing 10 doctors.  Wow, that sure seems like a lot of doctors!

My Doctor-Patient Relationships

Now don't get me wrong.  Some of my doctors are great and I truly enjoy working with them to tackle my chronic health problems.  Others are so-so, and at the moment, I am settling for their care until I have the time, energy and ability to search for another doctor that is a better fit for me.

Then there are two doctors that are causing me some real problems right now.  Over the past 12 months, two key doctors in my medical team have suddenly and abruptly "broken up" with me.

My Recent Bad Break Ups

At the beginning of 2011, my cardiologist literally vanished.  I found out she was gone when I called to make a follow-up appointment.  The first support staff member I spoke with simply had no idea what happened to her.  When I was transferred to someone who did know, I was told she was on a sabbatical to finish writing a book.  When I called back several months later, I was told she switched to seeing hospitalized patients only.

Whatever the reason for her absence, she neglected to make arrangements with another physician to take over her patient load and to send out a letter explaining she would no longer be seeing her patients.

My pain management doctor is my most recent bad break up.  I started calling at the end of December to schedule a follow-up appointment and finally got a call back January 10th.  Her staff left a message saying she moved to Fresno and gave me the number to call for an appointment.

Needless to say, a four hour drive so I can continue to see her in-person is so not doable. And finding someone to replace her is turning into a real nightmare.

I have called her office back several times trying to get some referrals from her.  On February 10th I finally got faxed to me the letter she allegedly sent out to all her patients--except me of course--which is dated November 14, 2011.  In it she explained her move, provided a referral list to other doctors and gave a consent form to use to obtain her medical records.  Only the fax I got didn't include those two attachments. When I called back asking for these items, I was told by the staff that they were waiting for the doctor to give these things to them.

She also stated in her letter that she could continue following established patients via telephone and email from her new location.  Wanting to explore this option further, I called both this past Friday and Monday requesting a registration packet and a telephone appointment.  I've been put into voicemail both times that I have called and I am still waiting for a call back.

I also sent the doctor an email, but so far I have received no response.

Not What the Doctor Ordered

While I guess I could dismiss these incidents as just two more examples of how the medical system is broken, the reality is that these actions are both unethical and illegal according to the American Medical Association website .  Unbeknownst to me, they are examples of "patient abandonment."  And according to the Medical Board of California, patient abandonment is a good reason to file a complaint against a medical provider.

I've gone on to learn that, due to their unique and powerful role on our society, doctors are tasked with a special duty of beneficence .  That is a fancy way of saying that they must take actions that are in the best interests of their patients.  What this means in my situation is that my doctors were obligated to give me adequate time to transition to another health care provider and facilitate this transition by providing me with referrals and access to my medical records.

Clearly this is not what has happened.

Now that I know this medical-legal lingo and what it means, I am going to use it in my correspondence with my pain management doctor in an attempt to get her to respond to me in an appropriate fashion.  If that doesn't work, then I will seriously consider filing a complaint with the medical board.  Why?  Because her actions have truly caused a delay in my medical treatment and, at this point, she and her staff are creating unnecessary roadblocks to my ongoing medical care.

Why You Need to Act on This Too

I share this information with you, my readers, because I want you to be informed and consider doing things differently should your doctor ever dump you.  I want to be clear that this isn't about doctors being inconsiderate; it's about doctors breaking the covenant they have with their patients.

Obviously trying to work things out through good communication with your doctor and their staff is your first line of action.  But if that doesn't yield results that are in your best interest, it is time to consider other measures.  

A complaint to a medical licensing board is one of the few tools we patients have to keep our medical providers accountable.  It ensures doctors are fulfilling their ethical and legal obligations as physicians, a career they choose to practice.  It also provides important feedback to medical boards about the conduct of their licensees and identifies areas where continuing medical education is vitally needed.

Most of all, making a complaint empowers you as a patient.  It sends a message that you are not going to put up with bad behavior from your doctor.

So now that you know your doctor's obligations to you, what are your thoughts?  Have you gone through a bad break up with a doctor?  Armed with the information above, how would you handle this situation should it ever happen to you?  How do you feel about holding your doctor accountable?
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