Physicians closing their practice must be able to provide patients with access to their medical records. This is a legal requirement that is dictated by State medical board laws.

The question then becomes, where do these records go when a physician closes? The answer varies by state. This article will discuss a few of the most common options:.

Patient Notices

Many reasons can cause a medical practice to close. Physicians may retire, be purchased by a larger group or health system, merge with another practice or facility, relocate, or even die. Regardless of the reason, patients need to be aware of how they can get copies of their medical records when a practice closes or relocates.

Often, physicians will mail letters to patients stating that they must claim their records within a certain time frame or the records will be destroyed. This is not a good practice to follow, and it can lead to litigation.

Instead, the physician should provide a HIPAA-compliant authorization form in their notification letter that allows the patient to designate their new doctor for release of records. The physician should also provide a list of other physicians within their community and state that the office records are available for review by request.

Posting Notices in Your Office

When physicians retire or leave their practice for any reason, it’s important to have a plan in place. This includes notifying patients of the closure or change of location, as well as establishing a custodian for the records and ensuring that this person is properly trained to access medical information.

Physicians should consider changing their office voicemail messages to inform patients that the practice is closing and providing their custodian’s contact information. Additionally, physicians should call all other physicians who regularly referred patients to the practice, managed care companies, and local hospitals to notify them of the change.

Physicians should also check state law to see if there are any specific requirements regarding record retention or notification. These laws may require physicians to keep records for a certain amount of time or to notify patients upon leaving the practice. Regardless of these requirements, physicians should be sure to follow up with a patient who has requested their records after the closure.

Notifying Your Patients

Regardless of whether the physician has a contract with another physician to keep the records or has chosen to safely store them themselves, it is imperative that patients be notified of the change. This is the only way to minimize potential claims of abandonment and ensure continuity of care.

Notification should be made to patients deemed active by the practice, which, depending on state law, could include anyone seen in the past year. The letter should also include a form that the patient may use to request their chart from the custodian.

Other entities that should receive notification are affiliated hospitals, referring physicians and health care plans. Additionally, any business associates should be informed so they may take the appropriate steps to contact patients. Finally, the malpractice carrier should be notified so that the provider can obtain tail coverage if needed. The tail policy will protect the physician from any malpractice claims that occur after a closing practice.

Notifying Your Custodian

Ideally, physicians should select their custodian within three months of the closing date. This gives them enough time to notify patients and ensure that the process goes smoothly and that they are ready to close out their practice.

Medical records must still be maintained, regardless of whether the physician is no longer in practice. Payors may need to contact the departing physician for audit or adjustment purposes and, in some states, physicians can still be sued after they retire or leave their medical license lapse, so retaining records for at least seven years is prudent.

This can be done by arranging a safe, secure place for the original medical records that is consistent with state and federal record retention laws. This can be with a nonphysician or a commercial storage facility. In addition, it is often a good idea to get guidance from the malpractice insurance company that provides the physician’s tail risk coverage policy.

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