SHM Converge

Making sense of LAMA discharges



Converge 2021 session

LAMA’s DRAMA: Left AMA – Documentation and Rules of AMA


Venkatrao Medarametla, MD, SFHM

Session summary

Most hospitalists equate LAMA (left against medical advice) patients with noncompliance and stop at that. During the recent SHM Converge conference session on LAMA, Dr. Venkatrao Medarametla, medical director for hospital medicine at Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass., delved into the etiology and pathophysiology of LAMA discharges.

Dr. Venkatrao Medarametla, medical director, Intermediate Care Unit, Baystate Medical Center, Springfield, Mass., and assistant professor of medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Dr. Venkatrao Medarametla

According to Dr. Medarametla, LAMA accounts for 1.4% of all discharges amounting to more than 500,000 discharges per year nationwide. LAMA discharges are at high risk for readmissions (20%-40% higher), have longer length of stay on readmission, higher morbidity and mortality (10% higher), and result in higher costs of care (56% higher).

The reasons for LAMA discharges could be broadly divided into patient and provider factors. Patient factors include refusal to wait for administrative delays, extenuating domestic and social concerns, conflicts with care providers, disagreement with providers’ judgment of health status, mistrust of the health system, substance dependence with inadequate treatment for withdrawal, patient’s perception of respect, stereotyping or stigma, and even ambiance and diet at the hospital.

Provider factors include conflict with the patient, concerns of legal and ethical responsibilities, formally distancing from nonstandard plan, and deflecting blame for worse outcomes.

Faced with a LAMA discharge, the important role of a hospitalist is to assess capacity. Help may be sought from other specialists such as psychiatrists and geriatricians. Some of the best practices also include a clear discussion of risks of outpatient treatment, exploration of safe alternative care plans, patient-centered care, shared decision-making (e.g., needle exchange), and harm reduction.

Dr. Medarametla advised hospitalists not to rely on the AMA forms the patients are asked to sign for liability protection. The forms may not stand up to legal scrutiny. Excellent documentation regarding the details of discussions with the patient, and determination of capacity encompassing the patients’ understanding, reasoning, and insight should be made. Hospitalists can also assess the barriers and mitigate them. Appropriate outpatient and alternative treatment plans should be explored. Postdischarge care and follow ups also should be facilitated.

According to Dr. Medarametla, another myth about AMA discharge is that insurance will not pay for it. About 57% of a survey sample of attendings and residents believed the same, and 66% heard other providers telling patients that insurance would not cover the AMA discharges. In a multicentric study of 526 patients, payment was refused only in 4.1% of AMA cases, mostly for administrative reasons.

Another prevalent myth is that patients who leave AMA will lose their right to follow up. Prescriptions also could be given to LAMA patients provided hospitalists adhere to detailed and relevant documentation. Overall, the session was very interesting and informative.

Key takeaways

  • There are patient and provider factors leading to LAMA.
  • Patients signing an AMA form does not provide legal protection for providers, but a stream-lined discharge process and a detailed documentation are likely to.
  • There is no evidence that insurance companies will not pay for LAMA discharges.
  • LAMA patients could be given prescriptions and follow up as long as they are well documented.


Schaefer G et al. Financial responsibility of hospitalized patients who left against medical advice: Medical urban legend? J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Jul;27(7):825-30. doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-1984-x.

Wigder H et al. Insurance companies refusing payment for patients who leave the emergency department against medical advice is a myth. Ann Emerg Med. 2010 Apr;55(4):393. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2009.11.024.

Dr. Kumar is a hospitalist in Port Huron, Mich. He is a member of the editorial advisory board for the Hospitalist.

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