If you are considering retiring, selling your practice, or leaving a practice owned by someone else, transitioning doctors have a lot of considerations to make when it comes to best practices for the patient healthcare records they created while at the practice, and even the EHR software itself. There are a number of legal and technical obligations surrounding data and patient records that can be compounded by the use and/or transfer of electronic healthcare records. This post will discuss some of the basic matters of attention for an outgoing doctor generally, with some important tips specific for MacPractice users.

Before you go...

If your former practice is to go on without you, always provide adequate forwarding information and have a plan in place to stay in contact after you leave. You’ll need to notify your patients, payers, and many third parties of your transition.

Legally, doctors generally need to notify federal Drug Enforcement Administration on anything from retirement to change of office address. You may be able to retire before the renewal date of liability insurance and switch to a “tail policy” to cover the transition into retirement. You should speak with your insurance professional or consult appropriate legal counsel as soon as possible in your retirement process. 

Insurance Companies and Payers may need to contact you in regard to service that you provided where any audits or adjustments are concerned. If you plan to practice elsewhere, for example, you can add yourself as a referring doctor in MacPractice and mark your own user as inactive to prevent further billing. A big reason to leave contact information is that it is not uncommon to hear that complaints are issued to the medical board when a doctor is unresponsive to requests for information, even if that doctor has retired. Unfortunately, these complaints can come up if a doctor attempts to get licensed in another state.

When it comes to letting patients know you are moving on from your practice, you can use MacPractice reports to print address labels or even postcards, if you wish. The appropriate notice period and procedure may depend on your specialty or specific health population. For example, a family practice doctor may desire to provide as much notice as possible with professional forwarding information. Whether or not another doctor will replace you at a small practice, or if the practice is being transferred to new ownership can also impact the appropriate length of time to provide patients with notice. 

Always check your state laws for legal obligations. Some states require retiring doctors to post a sign in the practice, publish a notice in multiple news sources, or send written notification to patients seen within a defined period of time.

Don’t forget that some important third parties can be overlooked when it comes to notification of a doctor’s retirement or practice sale. For example, there may be a notice period on any existing insurance payer contracts. Run a report of all the insurance companies in your database to look for any outstanding notices.

Your legal rights and obligations around patient records

If you are legally able to do so, you may keep a secure encrypted backup of patient data as you leave the practice in case you are consulted on a patient’s medical record in the future. This can vary widely based on the state in which the practice is located. Again, experienced legal counsel is key here.

Even if you are unable to store a backup of patient records, you may still be on the hook for their care and safe keeping. It is very important to have an adequate legal contract. If a doctor is retiring from a practice that will continue to operate, a legal contract that clearly lays out data storage responsibilities of patient healthcare records is necessary. Consult state laws in regards to patient medical records and requirements to protection from destruction, subpoenas, retention policies and obligations, and access in the event of an audit or complaint. Also, make sure that you speak with your local MacPractice sales rep about any specific procedures you may need to look at in regard to your MacPractice license. They can walk you through the process and develop a plan that will best suit your specific situation.

Get serious about billing
It is important to get serious about collecting as many outstanding debts as possible before you leave your practice. Practices can hire MacPractice Billing Services to close out debts and do a thorough audit of accounts receivables. Speak with a qualified legal counselor about how to best handle the matter of receiving payments after you've left the practice. In many cases, this will be a part of the negotiation procedure and also the sale of the practice. A knowledgable biller can help you to set up incoming payments in MacPractice to accommodate this sometimes confusing an challenging division of funds.

Be clear on fraud laws

Where departing doctors transfer patients to a practice buyer, the federal government could consider the payment for a practice sale an illegal payment for referrals of Medicare and Medicaid patients. Ask a professional to review state laws regarding a safe harbor to protect the practice sale from allegations of medicare or medicaid fraud. Generally, the sale needs to be completed within a year of the agreement and you may not make Medicare or Medicaid referrals to the practice for a year after the sale. 

Legal Obligations After Retirement

Consult a legal professional to find out how long you are legally required to keep healthcare records in your state. If you’ve sold or transferred your practice, the written agreement for healthcare records might also allow a third party to respond to any potential legal matters, such as a subpoena in a workmen’s comp case. 

You can put your MacPractice user and your medical license on an “inactive” status for retirement, however you should maintain insurance coverage or speak with legal counsel about protecting yourself after you’ve left your practice.