An impending retirement, change of life goals or financial difficulties might prompt someone to close her medical practice. Whatever the reasons, the closing should be conducted in such a way that those connected with the practice aren’t inconvenienced. It is also important to make sure you meet all applicable regulations related to the closing of the practice. It’s prudent to work with an attorney who can provide guidance on all relevant legal matters.
You need to let your patients know well in advance of closing your doors. Patients need time to find another doctor and continue receiving care. Consider the kind of care you provide and the seriousness of their illnesses when you decide the time frame to tell them. Refer them to other doctors if possible, but make sure these doctors are accepting new patients. It’s your patients’ choice to consult with doctors you recommend or find new doctors on their own. If you’re treating patients in a hospital, nursing home or any other medical care facility, make sure you notify them also.
Place a closing notice in a highly visible area of your waiting room and in your local newspapers. Send written letters to patients who received care during the past two years. Keep copies of the letters because they serve as proof of notification. In the letters, include the last date when you are available. Also, tell your patients where they can receive emergency care. You also need to inform your patients about their future care, and tell them where and how their medical records will be stored. Also, tell your patients about the closing when you see them.
Inform the Drug Enforcement Agency and the state board that issues your licenses about the closing. The DEA oversees the proper disposal of drugs and medications that might be in your office. It’s up to you if you want to maintain membership with medical and business societies, but you should update them on your status. Also, contact Medicare, Medicaid and your malpractice carrier. You might want to make sure you have an occurrence policy. This protects against incidents that occurred while the policy was in effect -- no matter when the claimant files a claim, including after you have already closed. If you carry other insurance for your practice, notify the respective carriers. Destroy your prescription pads so they aren’t misused. Be sure to end contracts with care management groups.
Handling Medical Records
Store your patients’ records for future reference and to protect yourself from possible lawsuits. Make sure you follow HIPAA regulations to protect your patients’ privacy. The time frame to keep patient records depends on the rules of your state and any social service organization in which you participate. For example, as of 2014 you need to keep patient files in their original format for five years if you participated with Medicare. If you are selling your practice, the records might belong to the new owners, so they become responsible for storing the patient records. At the patients’ request, you can transfer their records to their new physician.
Dealing With Staff
Inform your staff so they can look for other employment. Give them reference letters and, if possible, check with other physicians for job openings for them. Follow COBRA guidelines with regard to unemployment insurance. Pay your staff for sick leave or vacation time they haven’t used. You can include this amount in severance packages. Also, pay bonuses to those who remain with you till the last day.
Closeout Legal and Financial Issues
Consider hiring an accountant to close out financial issues. For example, you might need to pay final leases and rent as well as final utility charges and vendor bills. Check your receivables for outstanding bills, and send final notices to anyone who owes you money. Work out agreements with your patients for the amounts they owe. You’ll also need to file a final tax return for your practice. Sell or auction the assets your practice owns, or donate them to charitable institutions.
- The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Closing a Practice
- American Health Information Management Association: Protecting Patient Information after a Facility Closure (Updated)
- North Carolina Medical Board: Departures from or closings of medical practices
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Closing or Selling a Practice
- Louisiana State Medical Society: Closing a Medical Practice
- Photo Credit AlexRaths/iStock/Getty Images
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