The Physician-Patient Relationship Generally

November 30, 2010, 11:08 AM

In Virginia, the physician-patient relationship and corresponding duty is governed primarily by case law. Generally, there is no obligation for a physician to accept anyone who seeks his services as a patient. Instead, the physician-patient relationship is a consensual transaction. It is akin to a contractual relationship and can be express or implied, general or special. The physicians contract with the patient is to treat the patients condition with reasonable diligence and skill.

Whether a physician-patient relationship has been created depends on the circumstances of each case. In determining if the relationship exists, Virginia courts will consider whether the patient has entrusted her treatment to the physician and whether the physician has accepted the case. The relationship continues indefinitely during the course of treatment, and does not terminate until (a) the physician and patient mutually agree to conclude the relationship, (b) the patient unilaterally concludes the relationship, (c) care and treatment is no longer necessary, or (d) the physician explicitly withdraws from providing care so long as the patient is afforded a reasonable opportunity to acquire the services she needs from another physician.

In the next post, I will discuss what it takes to give rise to a physician-patient relationship. - Mary Beth Sherwin