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ESTABLISHING THE RELATIONSHIP

Historically, the primary legal characteristic of the physician-patient relationship was that it was voluntary. The physician was free to choose which patients to treat. The patient, in theory, was free to choose a physician. This legal fiction of voluntariness has persisted, despite its inapplicability in situations ranging from racial discrimination to emergency treatment. With certain exceptions, the law still assumes that a physician must accept a patient voluntarily before the physician-patient relationship is legally binding. The exceptions involve physicians who have contractually agreed to treat certain classes of patients, such as those in maintenance organizations or emergency room groups. These exceptions have greatly reduced the latitude of most physicians to refuse to treat a given patient.



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