If a physician closes his practice or retires, state law requires him to make medical records available to current and former patients. This typically includes posting a notification or otherwise providing information about how to request records and how much copies will cost.
Closing practices are also required to enter into an agreement with a local practice to serve as the custodian for unclaimed patient records, safeguarding them and distributing them after final closure.
Contact the State Medical Board
Generally speaking, medical practices are required to send a 30-day notice to patients if they plan on closing their doors. However, it is important to know that each state has different requirements when it comes to a physician’s right to close their practice.
When a large or small medical practice or health care system closes, they often have a records custodian that handles requests for copies of records such as lab tests, prescriptions and doctors’ notes. However, when a private physician’s practice shuts down, the responsibility of sending out notices and providing copies of records falls on the individual doctor.
In this situation, individuals may want to contact the doctors’ old office staff or search for the doctor online. Many doctors and medical professionals have active social media accounts, where individuals can reach out respectfully to request information. Additionally, health insurance companies and hospitals can usually provide details about where the doctor’s records are being retained.
Contact the State Office of Inspector General
If a doctor, who kept all the patient records, closed or moved away, patients have rights to those records. Often these records are maintained by a health care system that the doctor used to work for. Those records may include lab tests, prescriptions and doctors notes. Patients can often contact the hospital or the medical records department for copies of those records. Those records will likely contain the same information as the clinic that closed but they are more likely to be complete.
Physicians who close or move their practices should notify their patients in advance of the closing, so that they can request access to their records. They also should post this information on their websites or social media. They must provide access to these records within 30 days, unless the law requires them to keep them longer. Then they must make a reasonable charge to the patient for copying those records. They cannot use these records to collect unpaid bills, however.
Contact the State Office of Health Information Management
Practitioners who close, sell, or relocate their practices must post information or in some manner inform patients concerning the timeframe for record retention and destruction. At the end of the retention period, practitioners must destroy patient records in a manner that protects confidentiality, such as incineration or shredding.
It may be more difficult to get medical records from a doctor who has closed his practice, but it is not impossible. Individuals can contact the hospital where the physician did rounds and ask for their records. They can also check with their health insurance companies, who will likely have details of any claims made by the doctor.
Individuals can also try contacting the physician on social media to see if they have moved or are still practicing elsewhere. They can also search the internet for news articles that feature the doctor’s work, activism, or research. These articles usually include a contact number or email address for the doctor.
Contact the State Office of Attorney General
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) gives patients, or their agents/attorneys if the patient is incapacitated, the right to request copies of medical records and billing information. Those requesting medical records should be aware that under Virginia Code SS 8.01-413, the health care provider may charge an amount that covers the cost of supplies, labor and postage for each copy requested.
Physicians closing a practice are obligated to notify current and recent patients about how to get access to their medical records. They should follow American Medical Association guidelines which recommend providing the patients with a letter describing the closure and how to request records. They may also post a notice on their website and social media pages, or run an advertisement in the local newspaper. This step is to ensure that patients have the opportunity to obtain their records before the closing date. This can reduce stress for both patients and their care partners.