1. Health
Trisha Torrey

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

By September 1, 2010

Follow me on:

A Maryland man is suing a hospital because they wouldn't let him leave.

From that simple statement, we can ask the question - does a patient have the right to leave a hospital? The simple answer is that most of the time, short a diagnosis of a mental illness, yes - a patient has a right to leave a hospital.

As you can imagine, in this man's case, nothing was simple. In fact, he is claiming that after being taken to the ER as a result of a car accident, he awoke the next morning and was told he was on his way to surgery to remove a cancerous mass from his chest.

Then, he claims, he looked at the bracelet on his wrist only to discover it was a woman's name - certainly not his, anyway. Fearful they had him mixed up with someone else, and that a surgeon would be cracking open his chest, he tried to leave, and at that point was detained. That detention, according to the lawsuit he has filed, consisted of having profanities shouted at him, shoving and beating. It seems they were trying to get the bracelet off of him and wouldn't let him leave until they could get it.

Of course, I know nothing about this case except what I read in the news. But I can draw a few conclusions from it. I'm guessing he saw that wrong bracelet and 1. it scared him and 2. he was not ready to let somebody else take it because he knew he had proof of something - even if he wasn't sure what.

I'm also guessing the doctor or nurse or someone from the hospital realized the mistake had been made and that someone would be culpable - so his or her mission was to get the bracelet off that man and get rid of it. To that end, security was called and told on no uncertain terms to get that bracelet.

The entire scenario descended from there. The hospital could not afford for that man to walk out the door.

If you think this kind of problem is unusual, think again. The details will vary, but every day there are these kinds of rights violations - and mistakes - taking place in hospitals. Don't believe me? Read the comments from people who heard this story.

Bottom line -- patients do need to know their rights. Unless you have a mental health issue, you do have the right to leave a hospital. Fighting your way out through the security guards certainly isn't the best approach. But if you really do want to leave, don't get yourself worked up into a fight - they can and will use it against you.

(I should note that this is the opposite of the complaint I hear more frequently... usually the hospital wants to discharge the patient, likely because his or her insurance will no longer pick up the tab... patients complain because they want to stay! And yes, there is a protocol for that if you need it.)

Have you ever had such an experience? Care to share it in the comments section?

Learn more about choosing to leave the hospital against medical advice.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Learn more or join the conversation!


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Photo Microsoft Image Gallery

September 2, 2010 at 8:08 pm
(1) Rebecca S. says:

Thank you for this story Trisha! All patients should be aware of their rights to informed refusal and their right to leave a hospital when they want to.

There was a troubling case recently in Florida where a hospital got a court order to force a woman to remain there for 3+ months and to submit to any other treatment the hospital deemed necessary, including surgery.

The patient had developed signs of premature labor and her doctor ordered her to go on bed rest. The woman said that she wanted to get a second opinion and leave to make sure her two other children were being cared for. That’s when the state intervened and forced her to stay. Thankfully, an appeals court overturned the order, but only after the woman was held captive in the hospital for several days and underwent a cesarean section.

Patients do not give up their rights to consent or refuse medical treatment if they become pregnant.

Read about the story here:

And the outcome of the legal case:

September 7, 2010 at 9:52 am
(2) MCM says:

Even when someone has a mental health diagnosis, that does not necessarily mean they shouldn’t have the right to leave the hospital.

September 7, 2010 at 11:09 am
(3) alan says:

Interesting question, reminds me of a little of the incident where the Dr. forced a patient to have a rectal exam against his will claiming the possiblity of a head injury gave him the right to over ride the patients wishes. I never did hear how that law suit played out. I think this is a issue that has wider application than first glance…the tendency of providers to operate from the “God Complex” thinking they know what is best for the patient and there fore have the right to decide FOR the patient. Simple examples were discussed when the modesty issue was being discussed. I was required to remove my underwear for a upper endoscopy with twilight sedation. Another person in our office, different facility did not. How does this apply to patients refusal to just blindly follow SOP. Trisha are there any areas between the patient has the right to refuse to (using this example) remove their underwear and the provider has the right to refuse to do the procedure? Has there been any litigation that you know of where care was refused to a patient who refused certain orders from providers and the provider refused care?

September 7, 2010 at 3:22 pm
(4) Trisha says:


In answer to your question, a patient always has the right to refuse whatever needs to be refused in his or her mind (except in some mental health cases) and a doctor has a right to refuse to see a patient or perform any procedures.

In all cases, it’s best just to discuss… tell the provider you would prefer to do something, or NOT do something, ask for an explanation of why they insist on certain protocols that don’t make sense to you – and make your decision from there.

Just be sure you aren’t cutting off your nose to spite your face. Your goal should be to get the best care in all circumstances.


September 17, 2010 at 10:26 pm
(5) Gail says:

When the abulance came to our house, 3 1/2 years ago, they said my Father had to go to the closest hospital. I begged them to take him to our hospital of choice. He received the worst care at the local hospital, and this hospital is known as a death hospital or death trap. I was calling to try to get him transported to another hospital, because my Father had Sepsis, and they were giving him antibiotic pills that were not helping, when he needed strong IV antibiotics. Sepsis can destroy every organ in the body, and even the young die from this. My Father’s oxygen level was only 70 with the 2 liters of oxygen they insisted on giving him, and my Father was on his way out. My Father’s heart could have stopped or he could have gone into cardiac arrest, and that is when things started getting heated. I am not stupid medically, and I know they were trying to kill him. If not for boyfriend, who passed away this year, from receiving terrible health care and advice, my Father would not be alive today. My boyfriend was an attorney, and he got them to call an abulance so I could get my Father transported to the hospital that saved his life. Before that took place, they were trying to remove me, and there was a BIG scene. I got my boyfriend on the phone, and he got it settled, because it shook them up he was an attorney, otherwise, my Father would not be here today. It was worse than a nightmare. I have on record with our local Fire Dept and Ambulance service that under no circumstances that my Father be taken to our local hospital for any reason. It is happening probably more than any of us realize it. No wonder people are going crazy. EVERYONE should have a right to be transported to another hospital, when they are not satified with the care. At first, they said that they would release him to go home, and I told them I wanted an ambulance to transport him to another hospital. He was in the good hospital for 3 weeksI thank God I had someone that our advocate.

October 18, 2012 at 6:20 pm
(6) Bob James, M.D., J.D. says:

Trish: Concerning the comment from Gail (#5): as usual I have an opinion but I think I’ll just keep it to myself this time.

October 19, 2012 at 12:42 am
(7) Suzy says:

I just wanted to add a little more to what “MCM” said about mental illness and being kept in the hospital against your will…

First, if you are suicidal or homicidal, the police or hospital have the right to “pink slip” you. However, after three (3) days, they have to let you go, espeically if you are no longer feeling suicidal, or homicidal..

October 24, 2012 at 10:55 am
(8) KGreen says:

In response to hospitals forcing patients to stay — they do have a three day hold on patients, and when that three day hold is up, what do they do? They sign another three day hold. Then another, etc. Patients are not informed about mental health laws, nor are they told doctors can continue reissuing mandatory stays.

July 8, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(9) LHall says:

I had surgery on my wrist a couple of years ago and had to stay overnight in the hospital due to not having anyone to take care of me. If I had gone straight home, I would have been fine (no blood pressure isuess) but my blood pressure started to rise and the longer I stayed (2 extra days), the more upset I became and the higher it became.. The reason the blood pressure was very high was that the wrong cuff size was used. I’m a plus size woman and the cuff was the size that you would use for someone who was very thin. I felt like I was in prison and was told that I couldn’t leave. I was given medication to lower the blood pressure and was given something to calm me down but this made it worse. I felt like I was losing my mind.

Finally I was allowed to go home. God only knows how many pills I was given. The day after I returned home I felt sick (dizzy,nausea) but I wasn’t going back to the hospital. No way. It passed after a couple of hours.

Found out that I do have high blood pressure but not the out of control numbers that were coming up in the hospital. They were taking the blood pressure incorrectly. You would think in the hospital that they would know how to do this.

Just the thought of even walking into a hospital now gives me anxiety attacks. Never had this before this all happens. With the exception of the doctor who treats my blood pressure, I cringe when others take my blood pressure because I get a false reading and then when I had it checked by someone who is a doctor or someone who knows what they are doing, it’s okay.

It’s caused me unnecessary stress to the point where I’m afraid to go to my other doctors (dentist, ear doctor) even though I know this fear is irrational (fear that they will force me to go to the hospital against my will). I go but have an intense fear that I never had before.

September 21, 2013 at 3:26 am
(10) Kirstin says:

Hello, I’m currently in the hospital for a spinal fusion. I am 23 years old and this is my third back surgery. I had my fusion done on Wednesday, it’s now Saturday, the day I was told I would be discharged. Currently, they are telling me that I have to get my pain managed before I can be let go. Unfortunately, the bed they are making me stay in is causing extra pain that I should not be going through. I have a very expensive bed at home that I bought specifically for my back problems and I know for a fact that if I was able to go home,I wouldn’t be in as much pain as I’m in now. Also, they put me on a transfer diet and a LOT of morphine. This has caused me to throwup practically anything I put on my stomach. If I was able to eat something that would soak up some stomach acid, I know I would feel better. On top of that, the very strong taste of the anti-nausea medicine makes me nauseous as well. I’m a medical marijuana patient and if I were at home with my herbal medicine, I could better control my nausea and most likely be able to keep food down. However, they will not let me leave because I have not met their requirements, but the actions they are taking to meet their requirements are making me worse and more nauseated. Do I have the choice to go home and take care of myself the way I know will work, or do I have to continue to stay and possibly get worse because they demand it? And will insurance companies refuse to pay for service if one was to leave against the medical advice?

September 21, 2013 at 7:42 am
(11) Trisha Torrey says:


I am so sorry you’re having so much trouble – you sound miserable.

Unfortunately, I have no way to answer your questions because they vary by everything from the reasons they won’t let you leave (pain management may be only one of them) to your insurance plan, to whether or not they consider you have mental health issues, and others.

Do you have someone who can advocate for you? A parent or a friend or sibling who can make some noise and rock the boat, and get things straightened around for you? That’s the ticket here. You need someone to advocate on your behalf.

Sorry I can’t give you a clearer answer. I hope this all gets cleared up for you today.


November 4, 2013 at 4:19 pm
(12) jamie says:

I recently left a hospital that scared me into leaving…the doctors did not agree on anything…they refused to send me home with my RX meds they said I ‘had’ to stay till they said I could leave which meant id b there for the holidays…this was heart related and in no way a mental problem!
now im home and feel totally abandonded!

January 25, 2014 at 2:16 am
(13) yolanda monday says:

me and my grandmother was held hostage in the hospital until I callthe police so we can getout of there we had already signed ama paper and all and they still wouldn’t let us leave until police arrived they say she was having a heart attack I took her to another hospital right there after and they said she wasn’t the hospital monitored her heart all night she spend the night and let us leave in the morning

February 6, 2014 at 1:14 pm
(14) Sam says:

My mother is being held hostage by a geriatric Psychiatric unit.
They want to discharge her to an Alzheimer’s/Mental Facility and I want to bring her home.

When I tried to remove her, they called the cops and Adult protective Services on me. APS is claiming I’m being negligent by not following the shrinks wishes.

So not i am having two choices.

1. To fight their guardianship attempt. Attorney Fees ect……
2. To bend over and let them screw us.

NEVER NEVER NEVER NEVER allow Psych people anywhere near
someone suffering from dementia.

America is dead.

February 15, 2014 at 11:22 pm
(15) Jonny Death says:

You have the right to walk away from the moment they approach you.

Unless you are being accused of a crime, you can not be detained in any way legally. They do it due to our ignorance.
You can not be imprisoned in any way for anything less than a criminal charge or, criminal conviction.

This is what habeas corpus is for and the reason people sue these hospitals but don’t know enough to act in their capacity as a public attorney general and get them charged CRIMINALLY.
The cops, the EMT’s. the doctor that signed the order.

What they have in fact done is kidnapped you not false imprisonment. This is a tactic that should be used against arrests as well.
Leave the hospital when you want?

Legally they couldn’t actually detain and detention you in the first place which is why your “walking papers” have you say you were there by CONSENT.
They’re doing the same thing I would do only they do it after the fact.
Creating a legal document to present as evidence in court and if you deny it, you’ve now perjured yourself.

Odds are the cop is a big fat moron who will force you into their custody. So are the EMT’s and orderlies.
They’re generally physically massive with very small brains.

What you have to do is obtain business cards from the cop and anyone else you can. The cop is not acting under oath of office and is not in Uniform AKA UNITED FORM OF OFFICE when he/she pulls this shit.
It’s all a crime and the state corporation they’re calling an agency has no lawful authority and there are countless DC district court case laws stating this.

The problem is, no attorney will ever head this direction and, 99% of the population is educated to be ignorant. They want good little slaves who don’t know they’re slaves.
You can thank the founding fathers AKA the lying lawyers for this entire system of lies.

March 26, 2014 at 10:45 pm
(16) zarif says:

my new born baby had operation because of his bowl was out of skin after three months in hospital they discharged as by force, when we take bay home, reputedly phone calls nobody was answer, when we took him to another hospital they found out his operation is stretched Chelsea hospital is shite

April 10, 2014 at 3:02 am
(17) KT says:

I had to leave the hospital under AMA after begging the hospital not to perform an endoscope and colonoscopy. I was NPO for 7+ hours and severely dehydrated. I was told I would still be billed for the proceedure. I will never, ever trust any medical help again. The doctor, the nurses, the anesthesiologist would not listen when I told them I was in severe pain from the dehydration. The procedure was suppose to be “routine check-up”. That will be the last time I ever go to a doctor. It was the most horrifying experience of torture I have ever been through.

April 10, 2014 at 8:05 am
(18) Trisha Torrey says:

KT – I would be just as frustrated as you are.

Please know that, no matter what they told you about billing, your insurance will cover anything it should cover. Often hospital personnel tell patients that if they leave AMA (Against Medical Advice) then insurance won’t cover their stay – but that is not true as long as insurance could have covered it to begin with.

If I were you I would inform my insurer that they did not perform those procedures and therefore even insurance should not pay for them!

Here’s more on leaving AMA: http://patients.about.com/od/atthehospital/fl/Choosing-to-Leave-the-Hospital-Against-Medical-Advice.htm


Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>
Top Related Searches

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.