Is Failure to Refer Considered Medical Malpractice?

close up of male and female doctors performing surgery
April 18, 2018
Legally Reviewed By Attorney Rand Spear, Esq.

Physicians often specialize in a specific area of medicine, studying to become knowledgeable in that area, while others become general practitioners. When a patient goes to see their regular doctor, the doctor may discover that the patient has a condition or symptom with which he or she isn’t familiar. In those cases, doctors have a responsibility to refer the patient to another doctor who may be able to provide more specialized care for the patient.

For example, if your family physician notices that you have an area where your skin is discolored, or that you have unusual moles, he should give you a referral to a dermatologist who is knowledgeable about skin conditions and skin cancer.

If a doctor fails to refer you to a specialist who can provide you with the care you need, and you suffer injuries as a result, it may be considered medical malpractice and you may be entitled to compensation for your damages.

When are Doctor Referrals Necessary?

When a doctor enters into the doctor-patient relationship with a patient, it means that he or she has a responsibility to provide the patient with treatment until it is not needed any longer or until the patient ends the relationship. If the doctor encounters a condition or symptom that he or she does not possess the qualifications or knowledge needed to treat, the patient cannot be turned away, the doctor is legally required to provide the patient with a referral to another doctor.

The “standard of care” in referral cases is determined by what another doctor, who has similar qualifications, would do in the same situation. If that doctor would have referred the patient to another doctor, then the patient’s doctor has a responsibility to refer.

When a patient’s doctor deviates from the standard of care and doesn’t refer the patient to a specialist or other doctor, he or she can be held liable for any injuries that resulted from the failure to refer. Doctors are required to refer patients to other medical providers when they do not have the resources or knowledge to properly treat the patient themselves.

How Failing to Refer Can Harm Patients

When a doctor fails to refer a patient to another, more knowledgeable doctor, some serious harm to the patient can potentially occur. Some of the results of a failure to refer include:

  • A worsening condition or illness that may become irreversible
  • A misdiagnosis of a condition or illness due to a physician’s insufficient knowledge
  • A delayed or missed diagnosis caused by the failure to refer the patient for more comprehensive or conclusive diagnostic testing or lab work

The failure to refer to a specialist or other medical professional can result in devastating consequences – even fatalities – and the patient (or the patient’s family, in cases of death) may be able to recover damages for medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering that resulted from the harm that was sustained.

Finding Legal Help When Your Doctor Failed to Refer


Medical malpractice claims that involve situations where a doctor has failed to refer a patient to a specialist can be very complicated. That is why it is essential that patients in these types of cases hire an experienced medical malpractice attorney to negotiate their case. PA and NJ Lawyer Rand Spear and his team of lawyers can help you and your family with your potential medical malpractice case and work aggressively on your behalf.

Get A Free Consultation

Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved. This article is not to be considered advise, only the execution of the contingency agreement with this law firm will constitute an attorney client relationship. The contents of this article are for general information only. If you would like to pursue a claim please contact an attorney immediately to discuss your specific facts and circumstances regarding your claim. Some cases accepted by this law firm may be referred to or worked on by other lawyers, depending on the area of practice and specifics of a particular case.