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Leaving against medical advice risky for patients
6/5/2012
 
Patients have the right to refuse medical treatment but those who do so may be risking their health, according to a recent study in the American Journal of Medicine.

Approximately 500,000 patients nationwide are discharged from US hospitals against medical advice annually. Researchers, who looked at patients discharged from one New York hospital against medical advice, reported the patients were more likely to be readmitted within 30 days and were twice as likely to die, compared to patients with planned discharge.

Reuters adds patients who left the hospital early were more likely to have a history of substance abuse or psychiatric conditions or to be on Medicaid. “But even when the researchers accounted for those differences, as well as factors like age and race, patients who left the hospital against advice still had twice the risk of dying,” Reuters added.

The lead researcher told Reuters "our findings suggest that whatever your baseline (death) risk is -- whether it's high or low -- it would be twice as high if you leave the hospital against medical advice.”

One limitation of the study is that it reflects the experience of patients at a single medical center -- one located in a high-poverty area of New York. Regardless, the findings suggest hospital staff could be firmer in cautioning patients who want to leave against medical advice.