Practice Management Q&A

November 2, 2007

A lawsuit for keeping a patient waiting; taking charts home from the office; a tax-deductible party for your staffers?; when a PA wants billing information; reimbursement for travel time?

A lawsuit for keeping a patient waiting

A patient who's a professional photographer is suing me in small-claims court for $500 in lost earnings because I kept him waiting beyond his scheduled appointment time. Should I offer to settle, or go to court?

Settle if you live in a state that may require your practice, as a corporation, to be represented in court by an attorney. Lawyer's fees could easily exceed the $500 claim.

On the other hand, if you do go to court, it's unlikely the photographer would prevail. He'd have to prove he suffered real damages-an actual loss of income, not just an inconvenience-and that it's reasonable to assume that having a scheduled appointment time guarantees that's when you'll be seen.

As your defense, you could show that it's not possible to schedule precisely because each patient encounter requires a different amount of time. Or that you had a valid reason for this delay, such as an unanticipated emergency, and the photographer had the option of rescheduling.

Taking charts home from the office

During the workday, I have little time to work on transferring my paper charts to my EHR. Is it a violation of HIPAA to take the charts home to review them and select the material to be scanned or keyed in at work the next day?

No, HIPAA doesn't prohibit taking paper charts from the office to work on at home or elsewhere. However, check to make sure your practice allows it.

A tax-deductible party for your staffers?

To celebrate my practice's tenth anniversary, I want to treat staffers and their spouses to dinner at a fine restaurant. How much of the cost can I deduct at tax time?

As long as you don't go overboard, it's 100 percent deductible as an entertainment expense primarily for employees who are not highly compensated. Just make sure the amount you deduct reflects what a doctor in your circumstances would normally spend for such an affair.

When a PA wants billing information

Our group's physician assistant has asked for information on his billings and collections. Are we obligated to provide it?

No, these records belong to the owners of the practice, and you have no obligation to share them with employees. However, it would be a good idea to find out why he wants to know. By sitting down with him to discuss his productivity and billing, you may be able to alleviate whatever concerns prompted the question.

Reimbursement for travel time?

When billing for an in-hospital consultation, is there any way to get compensated for travel time? Going in for a single consult means a long drive from the office.

No, you can't bill for travel time to and from the hospital for the purpose of providing a consult.

In this issue, the answers to our readers' questions were provided by: Margaret Davino, JD, Kaufman Borgeest & Ryan, New York City; Barbara Fick, Assoc. Professor, Notre Dame Law School, Notre Dame, IN; Steve Kern, JD, Kern Augustine Conroy & Schoppmann, Bridgewater, NJ, and Lake Success, NY; Bruce Rappoport, MD, Rachlin, Cohen, & Holtz, Ft. Lauderdale, FL; David Schiller, JD, Schiller Law Associates, Norristown, PA.

Send your practice management questions to: PMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 123 Tice Blvd., Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7664, or send an e-mail to mepractice@advanstar.com (please include your regular postal address).