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J Hosp Med. 2008 Sep;3(5):403-8. doi: 10.1002/jhm.362.

Discharge against medical advice: ethical considerations and professional obligations.

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SUNY Stony Brook School of Medicine, Stony Brook, New York, USA.


Discharges against medical advice (AMA) account for approximately 1% of discharges for general medical patients. Patients discharged AMA have longer eventual hospital stays and worse health outcomes. These patients are also less likely to have an established relationship with a physician, tend to have poorer social supports, and are more likely to abuse alcohol and other substances. These discharges are also distressing for physicians and other health professionals. How should physicians manage their conflicted obligations to respect patients' choices and to prevent harms from befalling their patients? What are physicians' obligations to their patients who leave accepting only partial or inadequate treatment plans or no treatment at all? When should physicians question the decision-making capacity of patients who make dangerous judgments to leave the hospital? This article examines the ethical and professional implications of discharge AMA.

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