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Can Doctors Be Liable For Not Returning Phone Calls?

Posted on December 14, 2017

Everyone knows how busy doctors are. They see many patients a day and have even more to keep up with. But is failing to return a patient’s phone calls the same as negligence in Louisiana? The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal recently determined that a doctor may actually be liable if complications arise from failing to return or answer patient phone calls.

A Doctor’s Responsibility to Return Patient Phone Calls

photo by Thomas B

There was a situation in 2001 where a patient with an aneurysm had to undergo treatment to keep his blood thin. His cardiologist managed his blood thinner therapy and was responsible for his continued treatment for the rest of his life. After starting the therapy, the patient began to experience temporary blindness and other symptoms. After attempting to contact his cardiologist multiple times and receiving no response, he ended up being admitted to the hospital where he was told that he was overdosing on his prescribed blood thinner treatment.

The patient filed a lawsuit claiming his doctor’s substandard care caused him to suffer the blindness and other symptoms. In this case, should the doctor be held liable for the wrong dosage of the blood thinner medication? Should he be held liable for not responding to his patient’s phone calls? Or should the patient be responsible for getting to the emergency room right when the blindness started instead of waiting for the doctor to respond?

Normal Standard of Care

In a medical malpractice case, the physician must have breached the normal standard of care required by the hospital or medical care facility they are employed at, and that breach must have caused the injury. The Civil District Court for the Orleans Parish determined that in this case, the doctor did indeed meet the standard of care during the blood thinner therapy, so he wasn’t liable for the overdose. But they also determined that he breached the standard of care by failing to answer or return his patient’s calls and the patient received $5,000 in damages.

In this case, medical records showed that the failure of the physician to get back to the patient lead to the progressive deterioration of the patient’s condition, making the doctor liable for not returning a phone call.