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Can a Doctor Be Sued for Lack of Diligence in Attending a Patient?

I’m David Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a caller who claims his wife, who is in a nursing home, is not getting proper care from her doctor. In short, he says the doctor only comes to the nursing facility once a month and she is not being diligent in attending to her patient. He wants to know his rights.

The phrase “lack of diligence in attending a patient” is rather difficult to define.

A doctor’s failure to give proper attention to a patient, is different from claiming the physician acted without skill, or that the physician made an error in diagnosis, or that the physician neglected to give the patient proper treatment while in attendance.

A lack of diligence in attending a patient means something a bit different.

Generally, under the law, a physician, in the absence of an agreement to the contrary, is, during the existence of the physician and patient relationship, under a duty to give to the patient:  all necessary care as long as the patient requires attention.  Thus, any unwarranted lack of diligence in attending the patient after assuming to care for the patient exposes the physician to liability for damages.

Here is another way to state things. During the existence of the relationship of physician and patient, the doctor is under a duty to give to her patient the needed continued care, and a lack of required diligence on the part of the physician in attending the patient constitutes negligence or malpractice making the physician liable.

If lack of diligence in attending a patient is the basis of a claim, the plaintiff must show that the physician’s lack of diligence in attending the patient was the proximate cause of the injury at issue.

So, in response to the caller’s question, a delay in or the infrequency of visits by the physician can support a claim of liability against the physician.

A physician must use reasonable care and skill in determining the frequency of her visits, and if she does not answer a call or allows intervals to elapse between the visits where attention is needed, she is negligent in doing so.

There are many different ways a physician can be negligent. These include the physician’s failure or delay in examination of a patient.  A failure to give proper instructions for the patient’s care. A failure or delay in sending the patient to a hospital.  Premature discharge of a patient from care. Or, the failing to notify the health authorities where a statute requires such notification (for example, in a suspected abuse case).

A physician is not negligent if she stays in contact with the patient by telephone and her physical presence is not necessary. A physician is not liable for lack of diligence in attending a patient if she temporarily leaves or interrupts her practice, provided (1) she makes proper provision for the attendance of a competent physician during her absence in case of a call; (2) timely informs her patient of her unavailability and the substitution; and (3) does not absent herself while the patient is in a critical condition.

So, in the caller’s case, the key will be to establish that the delay in attending to the patient wife was both unreasonable, and harmed the patient in some way.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”