Patients Not Following Medical Advice Can Lead To Medical Malpractice Liability


By: Scott Rees
Informed consent, or lack thereof, has long been a basis for medical malpractice claims.  A new twist on that liability theory, “informed refusal,” is now starting to gain popularity in malpractice claims.  Examples include a physician who recommends a cardiac cath procedure, the patient decides against it, then goes home and dies from a heart attack.  Another example we have seen are paramedics responding to a 911 call, recommending to the patient that he/she be taken to the hospital for additional monitoring, the patient declines, and subsequently dies at home.  In both cases, the lawsuits hinged on the provider’s failure to document that the patient had been informed of the risks of not following the provider’s advice.  Informing the patient of the risks and documenting that communication could have prevented both lawsuits.  At the end of the day, informed refusal is really no different than informed consent – medical professionals must be diligent when it comes to informing patients of the various risks involved in any decision they make, and then documenting that such communication took place.