Physician Departure

William R. Pupkis, CMPE, Healthcare Consultant

Physician-DepartureWhether a physician leaves a practice due to retirement, a new position, or termination, steps must be taken to guarantee a smooth transition.  Different situations will require different steps. The departure of a retiring solo practitioner will be more involved than that of a relocating member of a group practice.  Whatever the circumstances, patient care must be assured and legal obligations must be fulfilled.

Your first steps should be checking state laws, which may dictate how much advance notice patients should receive, and reviewing all the documents you have signed, such as an employment agreement or operating agreement.  You should also review your practice’s policies and procedures.  Be aware of issues such as how much advance notice is required before departure, whether or not there are noncompete clauses, and if there is a policy against soliciting employees.  This will help you avoid breach of contract claims.  Reviewing your retirement plans and any buy/sell agreements will keep you from having unnecessary forfeitures.  You want to be sure retiring before the end of the year to enjoy the holidays won’t result in losing an entire year’s worth of retirement value or the buy-out of your building.

Notice to patients is necessary to avoid claims of patient abandonment and for continuity of care.  These notices can be accomplished by sending a letter to active patients.  It is also helpful to have your staff remind patients of the closing when they come in for appointments or call the office.  A notice of closing can be posted in the waiting area as well.  Some states and counties have specific rules on publishing notices about practice closings, so again, check local laws.  In addition to telling the patients the dates the practice will close, also provide information on how copies of medical records can be obtained, where patient records will be stored after closing, and how to have those records transferred.

In addition to informing patients, there are third parties who should be told of the physician’s departure.  This list includes Medicare/Medicaid and other payers, referring physicians, hospitals, state medical boards, the drug enforcement agency, and the professional liability insurance carrier.

A malpractice insurer will cover you during your employment, but a claim made after you leave the practice will not be covered.  A supplemental policy, generally referred to as “tail coverage,” will insure you for any claims made after you have left the practice.  Although this will be an expensive policy, the cost of defending a malpractice suit would be much more substantial.

Other items to consider include:

  • Return of practice’s property (laptop, cell phones, keys, credit cards, medical equipment, patient files, etc.)
  • Securing computers and electronic data (disable or delete passwords, email accounts, remote access)
  • COBRA coverage/other health insurance
  • Assuring all staff know how to answer questions regarding the doctor’s departure

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 30th, 2014 at 10:00 am and is filed under Practice Management. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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