Magazine article Medical Economics

Who Takes Call When a Doctor Leaves the Practice?

Magazine article Medical Economics

Who Takes Call When a Doctor Leaves the Practice?

Article excerpt

Answers to your questions

A patient at the ED asked to see a former associate whorl left town-and our practice-a month earlier. The hospital called me, instead, but I refused the call.

Hospital officials contacted me later to say I should have taken it. They added that if we won't accept call for this doctors patients, we need to send them certified letters terminating any relationship, and forward copies to the hospital's lawyer. Is this necessary? Do my partners and I have a physician-patient relationship with someone whod seen a former associate of our group?

You may indeed. I agree with the hospital that you probably should have taken the call, or at least asked about how the patient would be treated. If the patient was in the middle of treatment with your former associate and nobody made arrangements for continuity of care, the patient could sue not only that doctor and the hospital, but you and your group for abandonment.

What's more, your group could be open to a claim for failure to diagnose if your former associate hadn't arranged for follow-up care and your group didn't follow up on outstanding lab, X-ray reports, consultant reports, or subsequent visits that might have been needed.

The legal issue is duty. Where the liability will ultimately fall can be tricky.

The patient may assume that he still has a relationship with your group. And absent a certified letter to the contrary, a court may find that he's right. The main evidence the court will consider to establish who has a duty to the patient will be the employment or partnership agreement. Ideally, it should specify who'll treat patients when a doctor leaves the group.

Other factors a court would consider: Who made the appointments? Who did the billing? Who maintains the patient's records? If the group handled these matters, then it may be the group that has an obligation to the patient. …

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