So you've decided to retire or take a position where you no longer will be responsible for running your own practice.
You have a continuing obligation to patients to ensure continuity of care. Patients are entitled to copies of their medical records. Those in the middle of treatment or in need of prescription refills cannot simply be abandoned. They need time to locate other physicians willing to provide their care.
SELLING YOUR PRACTICE
If there is no market for your practice, try to find a colleague who will take it over without charge. Even if you are not being paid for your practice, however, you still will need to have legal documents prepared to transfer responsibility to the individual(s) who will be assuming duty.
CLOSING YOUR PRACTICE
If all else fails and you must close your practice without selling or transferring it, give yourself time to plan your exit. Send letters to all of your patients at least 30 days (preferably 60 or 90 days) before you close. Inform them of your closing, and for patients who require ongoing care, advise them to make alternative plans for care. If possible, provide the names of other doctors in the area, in your specialty, who may be accepting new patients. You also may wish to provide the telephone numbers of your local medical society and hospitals if they offer physician referral services. Also give patients a telephone number and address to contact to obtain copies of their medical records. Provide all patients with a copy of the notice when they come to your office, and have them acknowledge receipt by signing a copy.
You also must make arrangements for the storage of patient and billing records and a mechanism by which those records can be easily retrieved. The obligation to provide patient records differs from state to state, so check with a healthcare attorney to ensure that you comply with the law. Some states may require you to provide copies of records without charge, and some states require that you notify patients via local newspapers or other means. The law also may state the amount of time you'll need to maintain and provide access to records (usually 7 years).
You also must make arrangements to address billing inquiries and collect outstanding accounts receivable. Often, you can retain a third-party billing company to assist you in these efforts.
Of course, no matter how many written and verbal notices you provide, some patients still will call in a near panic seeking a last-minute refill of medication or an emergent appointment after you are gone. If your plans-and malpractice insurance-allow, you may wish to address these issues yourself. If you are no longer insured, have allowed your license to lapse, or do not have ready access to the patient record, however, do not succumb to the temptation to be helpful. Rather, retain an answering service that can direct the patient to a physician or facility that can assist him or her.
The author is a principal in the healthcare law firm of Kern Augustine Conroy & Schoppmann, with offices in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania and affiliates in Florida and Illinois. He also is an editorial consultant to Medical Economics. Malpractice Consult deals with questions on common professional liability issues. Unfortunately, we cannot offer specific legal advice. If you have a general question or a topic you'd like to see covered here, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org