Breaking the Doctor-Patient Relationship
It's a medical situation no one wants to face cancer. The doctor-patient relationship is crucial, but what happens when the relationship sours? For cancer patient, Sherrie Hunter, things got worse when the relationship with her doctor abruptly ended.
"My thought when I walked out the door I thought my God I have cancer and I don't have a doctor."
Hunter is fighting ovarian cancer. She says five months into her chemotherapy her oncologist Dr. Daylene L. Riley said she wouldn't treat her, the reason she was given the day of her appointment was her unpaid $868 co-pay.
Hunter was outraged, "Are you telling me that Dr. Ripley won't see me if I can't pay the entire amount?" She says she was able to pay part of the bill that day. "I said I can give you a hundred dollars it was either all or nothing."
According to the American Medical Association's code of ethics, a doctor must first give sufficient notice before terminating a relationship --providing the patient with an explanation. When Hunter showed up for her appointment on October 3rd she was turned away.
"I received a letter from her October 19th it was post-marked October, 17th it was pre-dated October 3rd," explains Hunter.
But the letter attributed the sudden termination "to inappropriate behavior with our staff...on more than one occasion." Hunter says,"I think that if I had been inappropriate someone should have told me somewhere."
While they doctor's letter never addresses the money Hunter owed, she says that her insurance had fully paid the near $25,000 worth of treatment she received.
So what recourse does a patient --and a physician-- have when they are in disagreement? President of the Alachua County Medical Society, Dr. Charles Riggs says they serve as mediators when patients and doctors disagree.
"Typically you try to work things out so that it doesn't get to that impasse...," says Riggs. Physicians he says are free to treat whoever they want. When we sought answers we were sent to a corporate representative. They had no comment.
"The Board of Medicine in very concerned in the state of Florida with the fact that patients once having entered a relationship are not abandoned the proper steps are followed in terms of terminating doctor-patient relationship," adds Riggs.
Hunter's case has not been reviewed by the Alachua County Medical Society, but she has submitted a formal complaint to the state's Department. The medical society's website offers resources for patients seeking information about physicians.
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