As the cases above demonstrate, states vary in how they define a patient-physician relationship.Physicians should consult with their local medical boards to determine the law for their particular state.Where a physician provides an evaluation of a patient for the benefit of a third party, or as a professional courtesy for a colleague, a patient-physician relationship is typically not established.In Mead, the on-call neurologist was held to a have a duty that the court contrasted with “curbside consults,” in which a physician provides a professional courtesy to another physician and no duty to the patient exists .Who counts as a patient is a complex legal question that has major implications for determining when a physician has a duty to treat, when a physician can be sued for malpractice, when a physician has “abandoned” a patient, and other serious matters. The court distinguished doctors from innkeepers who are required to serve anyone who comes to their door. The hospital physician immediately operated, but the hand was eventually amputated .The legal definition of a patient and the corresponding duties of the physician have been debated in state courts for over a century, and many aspects of the question are still being resolved. In 1901, the Supreme Court of Indiana heard the tragic case of Charlotte Burk . Eddingfield was the local general practitioner and Burk’s family physician, but when Burk suffered complications during childbirth, her husband sent a messenger to Dr. In this case, the court decided that a patient-physician relationship had been established when the patient saw Dr. Weis did not have an established relationship with Daisy Childs, 7 months pregnant, who presented to the emergency room, bleeding and with labor pains . In Oregon, an on-call neurosurgeon was consulted by an ER doctor who suspected a severe neurological disease was causing a patient’s low back pain .
Where a patient-physician relationship is established, the physician has an ethical and legal duty to continue care and not to abandon the patient.
This article will explore a number of important legal cases that have helped to define the patient-physician relationship generally, as well as some key exceptions to the general rule. Budge at the first visit because it is “well settled that a physician or surgeon, upon undertaking an operation or other case, is under the duty, in the absence of an agreement limiting the service, of continuing his attention…so long as the case requires attention” . The physician had never seen or treated Daisy Childs. Weis told the patient she needed to go to her own physician in Dallas. The court stated that “a physician is not to be held liable for arbitrarily refusing to respond to a call of a person even urgently in need of medical…assistance provided that the relation of physician and patient does not exist” . The neurosurgeon examined the patient and recommended that she be admitted but said that surgery was not needed .