What Is a Doctor’s Duty to Their Patients?

what is a doctor's duty to their patients

We schedule doctor’s appointments when we’re feeling under the weather, go to the urgent care for minor medical problems, and seek treatment at the emergency room for medical emergencies. In every health care setting, we expect doctors to treat us with the utmost respect and dignity.

That doesn’t always happen, though. So what is a doctor’s duty to their patients, and what recourse do victims have? Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers break down the medical duty of care, patient rights, and what to do if you’ve been hurt by a doctor.

Key Takeaways

  • Doctors have an obligation to prioritize the care of their patients.
  • Declining to treat a patient may be viewed as a violation of a doctor’s duty of care.
  • New Mexico state law protects the rights of patients in the Land of Enchantment.

Understanding a Doctor’s Duty of Care

Doctors have a duty of care to promote the health, well-being, and best interests of the patients under their care. A doctor’s primary duty can be summed up as making the care of patients their primary concern. This includes:

  • Practicing evidence-based medicine (EBM)
  • Adhering to clinical practice guidelines
  • Maintaining a patient-first approach to care

So what can you expect from your doctor when seeking treatment? Your doctor should:

  • Listen to any concerns or complaints about your health
  • Consider your symptoms and what they could possibly indicate
  • Order necessary testing (including blood work, imaging, biopsies, and more)
  • Correctly evaluate and interpret test results
  • Provide correct and timely diagnoses
  • Develop a personal treatment plan (including prescription medications, surgeries, therapies, and more)

Your doctor should also monitor your condition and progress while you are undergoing any type of treatment plan. If the treatment doesn’t appear to be helping or is actively making things worse, a new course of action is likely necessary.

What Is a Doctor’s Duty To Treat?

A doctor’s duty to treat patients will differ based on the environment or establishment. For example, a legal duty of care to treat a patient is typically established when the patient requests the services of a physician, and the physician agrees to provide treatment.

In certain situations, a doctor has the right to decline a patient’s request for treatment. For example, if a doctor’s office has reached maximum patient capacity, the physicians working at that office may decline to accept new patients. As another example, some pediatrician offices decline to work with families who do not vaccinate their children.

However, doctors must exercise extreme care when declining to treat a patient. It is never acceptable to decline treatment based on discriminatory factors, such as a patient’s race, sex, gender identity, health status, religion, or ethnic background.

If a doctor refused to provide treatment and you believe it was for discriminatory reasons, we encourage you to speak with an attorney about your legal options—especially if the refusal of treatment resulted in an injury or the preventable worsening of your condition.

Defining the Medical Standard of Care

In medical malpractice cases, the standard of care is a legal concept that refers to the degree of care that a doctor must exercise when treating a patient. The standard of care will vary from case to case and is determined by establishing what another physician in the same specialty would do when placed in the same or similar circumstances.

For example, when establishing the duty of care for an obstetrician during a birth injury case, we must examine the possible actions that another obstetrician would take. It would be inappropriate and inaccurate to compare an obstetrician’s actions with the actions of a neurologist.

Patient Rights in New Mexico

N.M. Code R. § outlines patient rights in the state of New Mexico. Protected rights include the right to:

  • Efficient and equal service
  • Considerate, courteous, and respectful care
  • Informed consent
  • Interpretation for non-English speaking patients
  • Reasonable continuity of care
  • Privacy

If you believe that a doctor, health care facility, or medical provider violated your patient rights or the law, or is actively posing a danger to patient safety, you can file a complaint with the New Mexico Medical Board. Complaints can be made online or at 1-505-476-7220 or 1-800-945-5845.

After you’ve filed your complaint, we recommend that you schedule a free consultation with an attorney at our Albuquerque law office. We’ll help you review the facts of your case to determine whether you have a legal standing to pursue a medical malpractice claim.

Proving Medical Negligence

There are four key elements of medical negligence that you must prove to successfully recover compensation in a medical malpractice lawsuit. These are that:

  1. A duty of care existed between you and the provider.
  2. The provider violated or failed to uphold the duty of care.
  3. The violation of the duty of care caused you to suffer related injuries.
  4. You suffered verifiable damages as a result of your injuries.

Damages may fall into either economic (financial) or noneconomic (non-financial) categories. These can include:

  • Past, current, and future medical bills
  • Travel costs (like public transportation and rideshare services)
  • Domestic services
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Disfigurement

When seeking compensation for medical malpractice, it is important to consider the potential long-term implications of certain injuries or illnesses. Without considering the future costs of your care, you’ll miss out on compensation that is vital to your recovery.

Holding Negligent Doctors Responsible

Patient-doctor relationships should be built on a foundation of trust and respect. When your doctor violates that trust by failing to uphold the duty of care, you may be owed compensation for any resulting injuries, harm, or damages that you’ve suffered. And the legal team at Barrera Law Group LLC is here to help you fight for what you deserve.

We know what it takes to hold negligent and reckless health care providers responsible for their actions. Our law firm never backs down when faced off against the medical establishment, and we’re ready to put our years of experience, knowledge, and tenacity to work for you.

For a complimentary case evaluation, please fill out our convenient online form or call our office. We’ll match you with a medical malpractice attorney who best fits the needs of your case.