April 4, 2013
I saw Tuesday's email about closing a practice and had a somewhat related question. I am not closing a practice, but I am planning on departing one to join another. My question is, do I have a right to take my patients with me?
Dr. D, the answer is - depends. Depends on whether you have a contractual prohibition against taking patients with you. Any contract you may have in place or written agreement with your existing practice should be reviewed for required termination notice/period, prohibitions against solicitation or practicing within a certain geographic range of the practice, as well as your right to take patient records with you. A matter of "right" does not exist allowing you to take patient records with you. In fact, those records are likely to be determined property of the practice, not of an individual physician if you are practicing out of a practice structure.
As a matter of "right", your patients do have a right to follow you wherever you go and to maintain continuity of care with you. The practice you are departing will have an ethical obligation to provide your contact information for anyone inquiring.
The next related question is whether you may contact patients of the practice and notify them of your departure. Without having an agreement you are authorized to do so (which many practices do have - having agreed-upon a type and form of such notice at initial contract stage) if no direct prohibition exists is a bit trickier. The practice you are departing may still have an issue with their patient base being contacted for services to them to now be provided elsewhere. Prior to sending any such notice I recommend contacting your healthcare attorney to address the specifics of your relationship with the current practice, contractual obligations that may exist and how best to proceed. You may elect to approach your current practice regarding notice, and they may agree to provide same.
Of note, notice to patients of potential departure from the practice is an issue many deal with at the time of bringing in a partner or when finally getting around to that partnership agreement/operating agreement or shareholder agreement. It is usually easier and more pleasant to address potential departure at the start of an arrangement then at the point when the arrangement has already started its decline.