Can a French doctor refuse to take on a new patient?

Doctors can refuse to treat patients for personal or professional reasons, but not for discriminatory ones

A personal GP can help make sure you get the right care and the best reimbursements

Reader question: I read your article about dentists refusing emergencies, but are the rules the same for GPs and new patients?

Our reader question earlier this month tackled a similar question – whether dentists could refuse to accept someone in an emergency – but here we are mostly talking here about longer-term care.

In French the term for a general practitioner is médecin généraliste, however, your own personal GP is called your médecin traitant – a designated doctor you usually see as the first port of call when you have a medical issue.

In theory, your médecin traitant can be another specialist doctor you see on a regular basis for a specific illness, but it is usually a GP.

The médecin traitant will keep your medical records up to date and will refer you to relevant specialists where necessary. Importantly, using them will also ensure you get the best state reimbursements.

However, for years now there have been concerns that certain areas of France – commonly called ‘medical deserts’ have a serious lack of doctor or other healthcare professional coverage – and this means that some GPs are overwhelmed by the demand.

Can a doctor refuse a patient?

As a general rule, doctors should not normally refuse to treat someone without reason, and must not do so for ‘discriminatory’ reasons, such as their race.

However, they are permitted to refuse for other personal or professional reasons – if he or she does not get on with the person, for example or if the patient has behaved aggressively, or, for example if the doctor simply feels they do not have the right expertise for their condition.

They can also refuse simply because they have too many other patients that day.

Doctors are, moreover, under no obligation to take on a new patient as their médecin traitant, just as a patient is not obliged to choose a certain doctor for this role. In this case the doctor should explain their reason.

Either party can also decide in future to end the arrangement.

If you are struggling to find a suitable doctor in your area, Assurance Maladie may be able to help.

You can send a difficultés d’accès à un médecin traitant form to your local Caisse primaire d'assurance maladie (Cpam) office, which can offer you help in finding a GP.

You can find the form online here, and you should send it with a letter explaining your situation. The form requires you to list doctors you have approached and the reasons they gave for not being able to help.

While the organisation cannot force a doctor to become your GP, it can help you find other doctors you may not have contacted, or reach out to doctors you have spoken to and ask them to reconsider.

Note that a médecin traitant does not strictly have to be a general practitioner in your local area – it can be a hospital doctor, specialist, or even a doctor you see online.

And in an emergency?

In an emergency, a doctor must do what they can to provide care, both under their professional ethical rules and the general French law relating to the obligation to help a person in distress.

Article 47 of the code of Medical Ethics stipulates that “continuity of care for patients must be ensured,” and therefore those needing emergency help cannot be refused, even if the doctor is not their médecin traitant.

In most cases, however, you would seek immediate professional help by calling the emergency services on 15.

Alternatively, if you call 116 117 you will be put in touch with a team of volunteer GPs who will help you find an on-call doctor in your area.

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