Do Appointments Establish a Patient-Physician Relationship?

Q. When a new patient makes an appointment with my office, does that establish a patient-physician relationship between the patient and me?

A. Generally, an appointment to see a physician, in and of itself, is not sufficient to establish the contract - expressed or implied - that underlies a patient-physician relationship.

A patient demonstrates consent to the relationship by seeking medical services. Physicians consent by diagnosing, treating, or otherwise providing care. Although the law in this area is not cut and dried, generally it holds that the physician has the option to reject the patient-physician relationship at this first appointment.

An exception to this might be if a specialist refuses to treat a patient who has an appointment for a specific procedure that is vital to the patient's health.

What if a prospective patient lists specific complaints when calling the physician's office, then asks for an appointment? In that case, your staff person on the phone should make clear that the purpose of the appointment is to evaluate the patient so the physician can determine if he can accept her as a patient - not necessarily for treatment.

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