August 4, 2011
An associate left our practice this past week (abruptly) and we'd like to know what our notification requirements are for patients. This scenario is not covered in any employment contract.
Typically this scenario is explicitly addressed in an employment agreement because most agreements do have non-solicitation provisions, whereby the associate would be prohibited from contacting any patient of the practice for a set period of time post-employment. Such a clause would not actually work in a way to prohibit a patient from following the associate - as from a continuity of care standpoint, the practice would be ethically bound to provide forwarding contact information for patients looking for the associates, as well as providing the patients with their medical records upon request.
Here, as you've indicated this scenario is not governed by a contract, I would provide similar commentary, except add that there is nothing prohibiting the associate from providing his/her own notice to patients that he/she has left the practice and is available at ____ location to continue treatment, which may result in patients following the associate. Two options practical are available for the practice at this point - take action or lay low. The practice may want to take action and send a notification to patients that the associate has left, however, coverage will be available. Or, the practice may elect to keep that information quiet, book the patients (with their consent) with another available practitioner upon time for their next visit, and progress as if nothing happened. Be advised that if the practice were to elect the latter, the practice would still be ethically required to provide contact information (if available) to patients looking to continue care with the associate, as well as providing access to patients requesting their records.
While there are no specific laws or regulations governing this scenario (as same is typically governed by contract as discussed above), there are ethical guidelines and opinion letters from applicable authorities highlighting the requirement to respect and enable continuity of care.
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