Legal Pearls: Failure to Refer A Patient to Needed Specialist


    Ann W. Latner, JD

    A 40-year-old man would often come to see his primary care provider concerned that he had a dangerous or urgent condition. He was about 20 pounds overweight and had elevated blood pressure, for which he took medication.

    One day, he came in with chest and upper back pain, speculating that he was having a heart attack. A brief examination revealed nothing out of the ordinary, but discussion with the patient revealed that he had worked out the previous day. The physician reassured the patient that his discomfort was undoubtedly due to straining himself while working out.

    Over the next 9 months, the patient returned 6 more times with similar complaints of chest pain radiating from his chest to his neck to both of his arms. On one occasion he reported shortness of breath. Each time, the physician was able to reassure the patient.

    A few weeks after the last visit by the patient, the physician got a call that the patient was in the hospital after suffering a massive heart attack. A week later, the patient died.

    Was The Physician Negligent?

    (Discussion on next page)