Reasons Why Your Doctor Might Refuse Care

There are a handful of reasons why doctors might not want to treat a particular patient. Some are based on the patient's behavior, while some are based on the doctor's biases. They often result in denial of medical care — rejecting a patient and not providing the care that patient needs.

Stethoscope on white desk in doctors office, female doctor and patient sitting in background
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Examples of Complaints From Healthcare Workers

The following complaints were cited in an informal survey of more than three dozen healthcare professionals:

  • Some patients are difficult or disruptive. They become verbally abusive to staff. They may be angry, and fairly so, due to previous experiences either with the same doctor or another one. Some are angry in general, making for difficult or impossible communications. Some are just unpleasant or aggressive, even if it isn't anger that causes that behavior.
  • Some patients file lawsuits. While some lawsuits are justified and fair, others are not. They may be frivolous, suggested and pursued by lawyers. You can't blame a doctor for not wanting to treat a patient who is regularly litigious.
  • Some patients place unrealistic responsibility on their doctors. A doctor urges an obese patient to lose weight and control her diabetes. She doesn't. Then she returns time and again for more medication or knee surgery or another treatment and gets upset when her doctor can't fix things for her. She blames her doctor for lack of improvement but is doing nothing to help herself.
  • Some doctors are just frustrated. They can't solve a diagnosis or find a treatment option that works well for the patient, and they no longer want to treat the patient due to that frustration. Although this complaint is more a reflection on the doctor than on the patient, it's likely the patient is frustrated by the doctor's inability to do her job, too. That may lead to an extreme reaction on the part of the patient, fueling the fire.
  • Some patients demand treatments doctors are unwilling to provide or prescribe. A simple illustration is a doctor who refuses to perform an abortion or who does not believe in (or lives in a state that does not allow) physician-assisted suicide. But this happens more frequently when a patient demands a prescription the doctor does not believe is in her best interest.
  • Patients who show up too frequently in emergency rooms may be turned away or mentally blacklisted in some way. They are not so fondly called "frequent flyers" because they continue to show up in the ER, but then never follow the directions provided to take care of themselves afterward.
  • Some doctors will not accept some insurances or state-aid programs as payment. In some states, that is illegal.
  • A recent change in your insurance may be at the root of the problem, either because you have changed insurance companies, or because your doctor's relationship with your insurance company has changed. Your insurer may have recently reduced its reimbursement to your doctor. In this case, the problem reflects on you, even though you didn't really have anything to do with the situation.
  • Some patients don't pay their medical bills, yet they are surprised when a doctor doesn't want to spend time with them any further. Imagine a boss refusing to give a paycheck to an employee for the hours that employee put into his job. That's how doctors feel when they don't get paid for their work, too.
  • Sometimes doctors refuse to see patients out of a belief that disease doesn't exist. Patients who have been diagnosed with diseases like chronic fatigue have been refused treatment by doctors who do not believe those are "real" diagnoses.
  • Some doctors just don't want to work with empowered patients — this is an unfortunate one, as it's a good idea to be an informed and active patient. Patients and doctors must learn to communicate and collaborate to develop a strong and therapeutic doctor-patient relationship.

Among the group of professionals who answered this question, additional mental health problems were cited, but they emphasized those are rare.

Bottom Line

Patients need to be aware of the reasons a doctor might deny them the care they seek. Awareness of our own behaviors helps us take the first steps toward repairing the relationship with our doctors and providing us with a better chance of getting access to the care we need.

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