Failure to Refer to a Specialist

Doctor holding specialist referral form in right hand, left hand is thumb down

Regardless of the education and skill level of any healthcare professional, no doctor knows everything about what might be happening in your body. When you visit a physician such as a primary care or emergency room doctor, they may need to consult with another physician who specializes in a particular area of medicine or refer you to a specialist for proper care. Failing to do so can be considered medical malpractice if you experience adverse effects as a result.

If you are concerned about whether your medical care was compromised because of a doctor’s failure to acknowledge the limits of their knowledge or treatment, you may need to consult a medical malpractice attorney.

When Should a Specialist Get Involved in Your Care?

When a patient presents with symptoms or a condition that is beyond the primary, urgent care or emergency room doctor’s knowledge or competency, the existing doctor has a duty to bring in a specialist with the background, training and experience to provide the expected standard of care to the patient.

While most people wonder what more could have been done in the event of adverse medical circumstances, sometimes there simply is not anything. Most doctors do adhere to the legal standard of care. However, when they fail to do so, the results can be devastating.

What Are the Consequences of Not Being Referred to a Specialist?

While all doctors undergo similar general training, they often very quickly shift their education and continual professional training to a specific area. Sometimes, that area is general by definition—such as for a general practitioner. Other times, doctors pursue a specialty.

Often, general practitioners recognize symptoms that warrant follow-up with a specialist, such as a referral to a dermatologist when moles or skin discolorations indicate possible cancer concerns. The medical issue may be one that is newly presenting, such as a mole that has recently changed, or one that has been successfully managed by the patient’s general practitioner previously but now has worsened, such as Type 2 diabetes.

A specialist referral ensures that the patient receives care from a healthcare professional who has advanced knowledge of the issue. Your general practitioner has a duty to make this referral so that you receive the expected legal standard of care. 

Patients who do not receive a referral to a specialist can face serious consequences, such as:

  • Increase in injury to the patient due to worsening medical condition
  • Misdiagnosis as a result of a doctor’s lack of specialized knowledge
  • Delayed or missed diagnosis from a failure to refer the patient for more conclusive diagnostic tests

A doctor may choose not to refer a patient because they want to keep the patient’s fees, believe they are more capable than they actually are, or simply do not recognize the need for further examination of the patient. Regardless, patients who suffered harm as a result may be eligible to recover damages for additional medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

When Is Failure to Refer a Patient to a Specialist Considered Medical Malpractice?

Doctors have a duty to continue to treat their patients until care is no longer needed or the patient ends the relationship. However, if doctors discover that they do not have the knowledge, facilities, or skills to treat a patient, the next legally required course of action is to refer the patient to another doctor who does have the ability to uphold the standard of care. 

The standard of care means that if other reasonable doctors with similar qualifications—and in similar circumstances—would have referred the patient to a specialist, then there is a duty to refer. By not referring a patient when appropriate, doctors open themselves up to potential malpractice suits because they may be held to the standard of care that a specialist would, which is going to be higher.

Each medical malpractice lawsuit comes with its own standard of care, but if you have concerns about your individual situation, a consultation with a medical malpractice attorney can help you better understand your rights.

Why Choose Janet, Janet & Suggs for Your Medical Malpractice Case

We represent medical malpractice cases nationwide in order to hold negligent medical professionals accountable. Because we believe in the cases we take on, our firm operates on a contingency fee basis, which means we do not collect payment from you unless we win. 

If you believe that you may need to speak to an attorney about harm caused to you or your loved one because of a doctor’s failure to refer to a specialist, contact JJS today to schedule a free consultation with a medical malpractice attorney.

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