Q: I am a physician in a small practice, which will be dissolved next year. How far in advance, and by what means of communication should I notify my patients of the change?
A. Changing workforce demographics and various health care reform measures are likely to drive an unprecedented number of physician practice transitions in New Hampshire in the coming years, be they from retirement or relocation of one or more physicians from a practice, or a merger with another medical group. Appropriate patient communications about the transition will minimize liability and litigation and, more importantly, assure continuity of care for patients.
Though state laws, medical licensure board regulations, or even malpractice insurance policies may dictate minimum advance notice timeframes (New Hampshire Board of Medicine Rules require 30 days advance notice), it is in your best interest to notify patients as far in advance as possible. Failure to provide fair notice could result in liability for claims of patient abandonment.
The patient notice should be in writing and include the following information/statements: the date of the practice transition and an explanation that the physician will no longer be available to them; notice that medical records can be transferred to another health care provider at their request; a medical records release form for transferring medical records; the physician’s new address, if practice is moving or if physician will be accepting patients at new practice; and instructions for accessing medical records after transition date.
The method used to deliver the patient notification should be tailored to your patients’ health care needs. Your aim should be to ensure, and in some cases confirm, that the notice is actually received, especially with respect to patients who have potential for an adverse outcome arising from a lapse in care. For patients with complicated care, notification should be sent via certified or registered mail. For other active patients, first class mail is probably sufficient. A newspaper advertisement can serve as public notice to inactive patients. Notices should also be posted on your website and in your social media postings.
Similarly, you should keep records sufficient to demonstrate that this important step of patient notification has been taken. Maintain a log that includes both the method and date of notification with respect to each active and inactive patient; keep a copy of the written notification in patients’ records; and save certified mail receipts and copies of any public notices.
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