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When a Patient Refuses to Listen to Their Doctor

The all-too-common experience of a patient refusing treatment or testing, or simply being non-compliant has become rampant. In order for practitioners to protect themselves, medical documentation must be more diligent than ever. Patient non-compliance can result in a multitude of negative ramifications to the practitioner.

When a patient does not follow medical recommendations, each non-compliant inaction must be documented in the record, described in sufficient detail, and recorded each and every time advice is not followed. A physician always has the right to appropriately discharge a patient if efforts to compel compliance remain unsuccessful.

More importantly, there are ways to speak with patients and attempt to bring them into compliance without creating additional friction between patient and physician. If a patient becomes disruptive to the practice, consider the potential reasons for the non-compliance and consider that the patient may be hesitant to discuss their reason. Accordingly, it is important for staff and physician to be on the same page when attempting to convince a patient to do what’s best for them and comply with sound medical advice. The more medical information shared with the patient the better. Bolstering a patient’s trust takes time!

It is highly recommended that each practice adopt a uniform protocol for handling non-compliant patients. That does not mean that each situation is treated exactly the same, but the protocol will provide a framework for physicians and staff alike to generally deal with non-compliance situations.

Clearly, there are degrees of non-compliance. Some can be tolerated and others can be extremely harmful to patient and practitioner alike. Every physician must be forward-thinking and aware that the patient’s non-compliance does not automatically absolve the physician from responsibility for what ultimately happens to the patient.

As long as the patient remains a patient, the physician must continue to try to bring that patient into compliance. All efforts and each refusal must be diligently recorded in the medical chart.

If you have any questions on this or any other related matters, please contact Sandra Jarva Weiss, Chair of the Health Care and Life Sciences Practice Group, at