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Dis Mon. 2002 Apr;48(4):197-206.

Key legal principles for hospitalists.


In a hospitalist system, when a patient leaves the hospital, he or she will return to a primary care provider (PCP) for follow-up and continuing care. The hand-off after discharge can compromise communication with the PCP. Physicians have a legal duty to provide follow-up care to patients with whom they have a relationship. The obligation to provide follow-up care endures even when the patient misses a scheduled appointment or does not adhere to the follow-up regimen. In general, the physician who began the care must fulfill that obligation. An essential component of follow-up care includes educating the patient about what symptoms require follow-up care and why it is important. The duty to provide adequate follow-up care is shared by the hospitalist and the PCP. Virtually no malpractice case law considers the obligations and practices of hospitalists. This article uses cases involving follow-up care for patients treated in an emergency department and general cases regarding liability for follow-up care to examine the potential legal obligations of both hospitalists and PCPs for follow-up care, including circumstances involving pending test results and incidental findings.

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