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The terms patient abandonment and medical negligence are often used interchangeably because they can occur simultaneously and at first glance they both seem very similar. However, patient abandonment and negligence are two very different types of medical malpractice. Both have different elements which come with varying levels of liability for the practitioner.

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What is Patient Abandonment?

Patient abandonment refers to a health care provider’s premature termination of care without providing proper notice or patient consent. Patients who have been abandoned have experienced a termination in the patient-health care provider relationship despite the patient’s continued need for such care.

Healthcare providers are bound by a code of ethics that states that a professional who begins treating a patient’s illness willingly should complete the treatment to the best of his or her ability. Healthcare professionals should not stop treatment unless they are not able to treat the patient correctly or if they disagree with the patient about the way in which treatment is administered. An example of treatment disagreement between doctor and patient would be if a patient refuses to take a medication even though his doctor believes it is required to treat his condition. If this patient refuses his treatment, then the doctor can let him go.

The ethics code does not mean that the doctor has to treat patients no matter the circumstances. The code states that when the physician wants to stop treating a patient, he or she must give ample notice and must refer the patient to another professional. A doctor cannot be charged with patient abandonment if he or she refers the patient to another physician.

What is Medical Negligence?

Medical negligence occurs when a medical professional fails to give a patient the appropriate treatment. Appropriate treatment is defined by what another medical professional would do in the same situation. If another healthcare provider would have treated the patient differently, then it is very likely that malpractice was committed.

There can be many forms of medical negligence. If a doctor fails to give a patient the proper tests, performs unneeded procedures, or fails to check progress after a procedure, he or she has committed medical negligence. In essence, if the doctor does anything that another competent doctor would not do, it can be considered malpractice.

How are Abandonment and Negligence Similar?

Both forms of malpractice include the mistreatment of patients by their healthcare providers. In both abandonment and negligence, patients do not receive the medical care they are entitled to and deserve.

If you suffer any damages (negative repercussions due to the treatment you receive) from patient abandonment or medical negligence, you do not have to suffer in silence. You have the right to take legal action against your doctor. If your course of treatment has made your injury worse, cost you more in medical expenses, or caused you pain, emotional distress, or lost wages, then you have suffered from damages.

How Do You Differentiate Between Abandonment and Negligence?

Despite the fact that they are very similar, negligence and abandonment are two separate forms of malpractice. For example, only a doctor can abandon a patient while a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or any other medical professional can commit medical negligence.

One of the easiest ways to distinguish abandonment from negligence is the fact that an abandoned patient stops receiving treatment. An abandoned patient is often just cut off and left to find their own treatment without their doctor’s guidance. In the case of negligence, you get treatment which is below the level of care you would get with another doctor.


DeWitt, A.L. “The Top 10 Things You Can Do to Get Sued.” Advance for Nurses, 20 August 2001. Web. 1 June 2012.
“Patient Abandonment.” Nurse Together, n.d. Web. 1 June 2012.