Avoiding Liability When Closing a Practice
Johnson, Lee J., Medical Economics
Avoiding liability when closing a practice
Q I plan to close my solo primary-care practice and retire within the next year. What records am I required to keep, and for how long? Must I keep the files of patients who've died? How much notice should I give patients? Will my malpractice policy cover me if I'm sued after I retire?
A There are many legal steps to consider when shutting down a practice. Continuity of care is crucial for patients, especially those with chronic conditions. To avoid a claim of abandonment, you should notify all active patients (seen within the past year or two) of your intention to withdraw from practice. At least 60 days' notice is advisable to give patients adequate time to find another physician.
Send a letter to each patient. Explain when you're leaving practice, which colleagues you recommend (if you choose to do so), and how patients can transfer copies of their records. Include an authorization form for the release of patients' medical records to another doctor of their choice.
If you aren't recommending other physicians, encourage patients to contact the county medical society for a list of practitioners. Keep track of the patients you've notified, along with any envelopes that the post office returns to you. Follow up with pregnant and chronically ill patients to make sure they've chosen other physicians and will continue to get proper care.
Advise patients that you will continue to provide medical services until your retirement date. There's no need to publish an announcement in a newspaper, but posting one in your office is a good idea. Instruct your staff to remind patients of your impending retirement when they come in for visits.
Make sure your malpractice protection will continue. Most professional liability insurers provide tail coverage at no additional cost if you've been with the same carrier for at least five years and meet certain other conditions. Read your policy carefully. If you need to purchase tail coverage, it will likely be expensive, often as much as two years' regular premiums. The cost varies greatly, depending on your specialty and geographic region. Find out well ahead of time what your carrier will charge, whether it will accept installment payments, and when the money will be due.
It's important to retain your medical records for all patients-including deceased or inactive ones. Statutes of limitations on malpractice actions vary from state to state, as do medicalboard regulations. These laws and regulations govern how long you need to retain records.
Even though a patient generally has a limited time to commence litigation (usually two to three years after the alleged negligent incident), you should retain records for at least seven years for adults, and longer for pediatric patients. Minors may have until the age of majority plus a few more years to file a lawsuit. To find out how long to retain these records, check with your state medical society or malpractice insurer. …