Directing new patients to other physicians
Q. When my workload gets heavy, I have my receptionist suggest to new patients that they go to one of several physicians who are just establishing themselves in town. These new doctors all seem fully qualified, but none of them has been in practice long enough to have a track record. What's my liability in this situation?
A. There's never liability until you establish a physician-patient relationship. And a new patient calling for a first-time appointment doesn't create such a relationship. Still, it's probably best if your receptionist simply tells these callers that you're not accepting any new patients, but that she understands that Doctors A and B may be available. That's neither a referral nor a recommendation.
Q. I'm forming a practice with two other doctors. If one of us dies, does his ownership interest pass to his estate? Should the remaining partners be required to buy his share? What should our contract say about transferring ownership in the event of death?
A. The partners should buy his share, by means of a buy-sell agreement that you should include in your contract. The agreement should spell out specific terms-including a pricing formula or a fixed price-for the purchase of a deceased doctor's share. By establishing the price before the untimely death of any of the doctors, you minimize the chance of an heir challenging the valuation of the practice.
Upon the death of a partner, his ownership share will pass to his estate temporarily (typically for nine months) while the executor resolves estate tax and distribution issues.
When you need to make amends
Q. A communication breakdown over scheduling ruffled the feathers of a longtime patient. As a goodwill gesture, would it be appropriate to waive all or part of the fees for this patient's next visit?
A. No, that would put the focus on money instead of on the problem. Instead, try a personal phone call with a heartfelt apology. If that doesn't heal the rift, follow up with a greeting card with an "I'm sorry" message, and perhaps enclose a $20 gift certificate to a local health food store.
How to get rid of old computers
Q. I plan to install some new computers soon. The old ones are too outdated to donate. How should I discard them?
A. Bring them to your local recycling center. But first be sure to remove all data and software. However, you can't just delete items or drag them into your "trash" folder. They'll still exist on your hard drive, where they could be opened by anyone who knows how to access them. Use Symantec's Norton Systemworks 2006 Premier or a similar software tool to permanently erase all traces of data from your hard disk. Or, if you're sure these computers are worthless, just open up the case, remove the hard drive, and give it a few whacks with a hammer to destroy it.
In this issue, the answers to our readers' questions were provided by: Geoffrey T. Anders, JD, CPA, The Health Care Group, Plymouth Meeting, PA; Keith Borglum, http://www.PracticeMgmt.com, Santa Rosa, CA; James Lewis Griffith Sr., JD, Fox Rothschild, Philadelphia; Michael LaPenna, The LaPenna Group, Kentwood, MI; Rosemarie Nelson, MGMA Health Care Consulting Group, Syracuse, NY.
Do you have a practice management question that may be stumping other doctors, too? Write PMQA Editor, Medical Economics, 5 Paragon Drive, Montvale, NJ 07645-1742, or send an e-mail to email@example.com (please include your regular postal address). Sorry, but we're not able to answer readers individually.