Do You Have the Right to Leave the Hospital When You Want To?

You have certain rights in the hospital. Those include rights to privacy, safety, and culturally appropriate care.

Most of the time, you even have the right to leave when you want. That's true even if your healthcare provider wants you to stay. It's called being discharged against medical advice (AMA).

This article looks at when you do and don't have the right to leave the hospital early.

Patient with suitcase ready to leave hospital room
Martin Barraud / caiaimages / Getty Images

Your Right to Leave

The typical hospitals you think of are generally acute-care hospitals. That's where you go in an emergency, to get surgery, or to get some types of routine care.

Other hospitals keep people for long periods of time. That's where you get rehabilitation after a serious injury. These are called long-term acute or subacute hospitals.

In general, if you're in either type of hospital, you have a right to leave whenever you wish. Medical personnel can't keep you against your will.

But this right isn't absolute. 

Your Right to Stay

You also have a right to refuse discharge. This can happen if you think you're being released too soon. There's a protocol for refusing discharge.

Against Medical Advice

To be discharged AMA, you'll have to sign a form stating you wish to leave even though your healthcare provider thinks it's a bad decision.

The signature waives your right to sue for complications arising from the early discharge. So the hospital will be held harmless for any problems you have after leaving.

Depending on the state and the hospital, your insurance company may refuse to pay for some or all of the stay. That could leave you with a large bill.

Recap

You usually have the right to leave the hospital whenever you want. When discharged against medical advice, you have to sign a form. This relieves the hospital of responsibility. Your insurance company may refuse to pay the bill.

When It's Not Your Decision

You don't always have the right to check yourself out of the hospital. That's usually because someone else is legally responsible for you.

Being Commited

You may lose the right to leave if you're temporarily committed to a psychiatric ward. That can happen if you have a:

  • Behavioral health problem
  • OR substance abuse problem
  • AND your healthcare provider thinks you're a threat to yourself or others

The hospital can then petition the court. If the court agrees, you can be temporarily committed. Decisions are then up to the facility. And the staff can take steps to keep you there.

Guardians

If you have a legal guardian, only they can have you discharged AMA. For children, this usually means their parents.

Some adults have legal guardians, too. One may be appointed for adults who:

  • Have special needs
  • Can't make their own decisions

In this case, the guardian requests the AMA and signs the paperwork.

Incarceration

Rights are different if you're hospitalized while in the custody of law enforcement.

In that case, you aren't free to go whenever you want. Only the agency holding you can authorize an AMA.

Recap

Not everyone can make their own discharge decisions. That includes people who:

  • Have a legal guardian
  • Are committed
  • Are incarcerated

Summary

You can usually discharge yourself AMA. You must waive your right to sue for anything that happens after you leave.

You can't leave AMA if you're legally someone else's responsibility. Only the legally responsible party can make an early discharge decision.

A Word From Verywell

Leaving the hospital against medical advice may be dangerous. Consider your hospital care team's opinions and don't make this decision lightly.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I refuse to stay in the hospital?

    Generally, yes. You can leave even if your healthcare provider thinks you should stay. But it will be documented in your record as discharged against medical advice (AMA).

  • What happens if I leave the hospital before being discharged?

    Leaving against medical advice typically requires paperwork waiving your right to sue for complications due to early discharge.

  • Are there consequences for leaving AMA (against medical advice)?

    Yes, a couple of them. First, you waive your right to sue for complications that arise after you leave.

    Second, your insurance company may refuse to pay the hospital bill. That leaves you responsible for the cost. Check with your insurer before you make the decision to leave AMA.

  • When can a hospital detain you?

    The hospital can detain you if you have a behavioral health or substance abuse problem AND the court grants their petition to have you temporarily committed. Then you'll be held for observation in a psychiatric unit. 

2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Choi M, Kim H, Qian H, Palepu A. Readmission rates of patients discharged against medical advice: a matched cohort study. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(9):e24459. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0024459

  2. Hedman LC, Petrila J, Fisher WH, Swanson JW, Dingman DA, Burris S. State laws on emergency holds for mental health stabilization. Psychiatr Serv. 2016;67(5):529-35. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201500205

By Trisha Torrey
 Trisha Torrey is a patient empowerment and advocacy consultant. She has written several books about patient advocacy and how to best navigate the healthcare system.