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A physician or surgeon, upon undertaking an operation or other case, is under the duty, in the absence of an agreement limiting the service, of continuing his attention, after the first operation or first treatment, so long as the case requires attention. The obligation of continuing attention can be terminated only by the cessation of the necessity which gave rise to the relationship, or by the discharge of the physician by the patient, or by the withdrawal from the case by the physician after giving the patient reasonable notice so as to enable the patient to secure other medical attention. A physician has the right to withdraw from a case, but if the case is such as to still require further medical or surgical attention, he must, before withdrawing from the case, give the patient sufficient notice so the patient can procure other medical attention if he desires.
The physician hospitalized and treated the patient for an infected finger. Against the physician's advice, the patient left the hospital. The physician instructed the patient to return for further treatment if the infection worsened. When the infection worsened, the physician examined the patient and told him to return to the hospital. Once at the hospital, the physician refused to treat the patient because of a previously owed bill. The patient was operated on at another hospital and his finger was eventually amputated. The patient brought a medical malpractice against the physician and partners for negligence and the refusal to treat. The trial court granted the physician and partners' directed verdict motion. The patient appealed.
Could the physician be held liable for his refusal to treat the patient during the patient’s second admission?
The court affirmed the portion of the trial court's decision on the negligence issue and held that the physician's initial treatment was proper and that the physician advised the patient to stay in the hospital. The court reversed and remanded the trial court's decision on the refusal to treat issue because the physician, upon undertaking the operation during the patient's second admission, was under a duty to continue his attention as long as the case required.