Do you have the right to leave the hospital at any time?

You have certain rights in the hospital. These include the rights to privacy, safety and culturally appropriate care.

Most of the time, you even have the right to leave when you want to. Even if your healthcare provider wants you to stay. This is called Discharge Against Medical Advice (AMA).

This article looks at when you are and are not entitled to leave the hospital early.

your right to leave

What you think of as a typical hospital is usually an acute hospital. That’s where you go in an emergency, for surgery or some type of routine care.

Long-term stay in other hospitals. This is where your recovery comes in after a serious injury. These are called long-term acute or subacute hospitals.

Generally, if you are in a hospital of either type, you have the right to leave at any time. Medical staff cannot keep you against your will.

But this right is not absolute.

your residency

You also have the right to refuse to be discharged from the hospital. This can happen if you think you’ve been released too soon. There is an agreement to refuse discharge.

against medical advice

To discharge an AMA, you must sign a form stating that you wish to leave, even if your healthcare provider thinks it was a bad decision.

This signature waives your right to sue for complications arising from early discharge. So the hospital will be harmless for any problems you have after you leave.

Depending on the state and hospital, your insurance company may deny some or all of the cost of your hospital stay. This could leave you with a large bill.

AMA: Things to Consider Before Early Discharge


You usually have the right to leave the hospital at any time. When you are discharged from the hospital against medical advice, you must sign a form. This relieves the responsibility of the hospital. Your insurance company may refuse to pay the bill.

when it’s not your decision

You do not always have the right to check yourself out of the hospital. This is usually because someone else is legally responsible for you.


If you are temporarily placed in a mental ward, you may lose your right to leave. This can happen if you have:

  • behavioral health problems
  • or substance abuse problems
  • and your healthcare provider believes you are a threat to yourself or others

The hospital can then appeal to the court. You can commit temporarily if the court agrees. Then it’s up to the facility. Staff can take steps to keep you there.


If you have a legal guardian, only they can discharge you from the AMA. For children, this usually means their parents.

Some adults also have legal guardians. An adult who meets the following criteria may be nominated:

  • have special needs
  • can’t make decisions

In this case, the guardian requests an AMA and signs the document.

Does my adult child with autism need a guardian?


Your rights are different if you are hospitalized while in law enforcement.

In this case, you are not free to go anytime. Only the institution holding you can authorize an AMA.


Not everyone can make their own discharge decisions. This includes the following people:

  • have legal guardian
  • promise
  • imprisoned


You can usually lift your own AMA. You must waive your right to sue for anything that happens after you leave.

You cannot leave the AMA if you are legally someone else’s responsibility. Only the legally responsible party can make an early discharge decision.

VigorTip words

Leaving the hospital without a doctor’s order can be dangerous. Do not make this decision lightly, considering the advice of your hospital care team.

Understanding Patient Bill of Rights

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I refuse to be hospitalized?

    Generally speaking, yes. You can leave even if your healthcare provider thinks you should stay. But it will be recorded on your record as a discharge against medical advice (AMA).

  • What happens if I leave the hospital before discharge?

    Leaving medical advice often requires paperwork, giving up your right to complications from early discharge.

  • What are the consequences of leaving the AMA (violating medical advice)?

    Yes, there are several. First, you waive your right to sue for complications that arise after you leave.

    Second, your insurance company may refuse to pay hospital bills. This makes you responsible for the cost. Check with your insurance company before you decide to leave the AMA.

  • When can the hospital detain you?

    The hospital can detain you if you have a behavioral health or substance abuse problem and the court grants their petition for temporary treatment. You will then be held in a mental hospital for observation.