Navigating Records Management When Closing Your Medical Practice

Orson Welles once said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” Similarly, the closure of a medical practice marks the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Whether it’s a carefully-planned transition or an abrupt decision, navigating towards closure can be a positive experience if you adhere to essential checkpoints, ensuring a complete and organized process. The following guide will assist you in ending your practice story on a well-managed note.

Why This Is Important?

Your medical practice may be wrapping up, but your patients’ records need to endure. Health records must outlast the acquisition or closure of a medical practice. Typically, adult medical records must be maintained for at least seven years following the last contact, even in the case of the patient’s death. It is crucial, however, to consult state-specific records retention guidelines, as each state has its own rules for how long records should be kept.

Where Do We Begin?

Begin the practice closure process by making a well-structured plan. This plan should cover everything from announcing the closure to patients to the final day of operation. An organized plan ensures a smooth exit, maintaining a high level of care during the transition. Considering the emotional impact on patients dealing with health issues, a plan helps manage records without major disruptions.

Who Are the Stakeholders?

To understand your legal obligations, identify the stakeholders affected by the closure. Effective communication with stakeholders—including patients, medical and administrative staff, insurance companies, pharmaceutical vendors, medical facilities, and the local community—is crucial for a smooth transition.

What Is the Best Means of Communication?

Notify patients well in advance, preferably three months before closure, through written communication. Use various communication channels such as:

  • Emails and/or phone calls
  • Letters to patients
  • Verbal notification when patients are seen
  • Your practice’s website
  • Local newspapers and news websites

Keep the practice’s phone number active for at least 90 days after closure, directing callers to new contacts as needed.

How Do I Handle Medical Records?

  1. Initiate a HIPAA-compliant record retention strategy.
  2. Obtain patient authorization for records transfer.
  3. Records that are not transferred need to be securely stored according to state-specific retention guidelines.
  4. Partner with an organization specializing in maintaining legacy medical records for closing medical practices.

What is the Process for Secure Records Transfer?

Patient consent is required for transferring medical records to another physician. Patients should have the option to choose a new doctor, and their records can be sent to the chosen physician. Medical records cannot be part of the practice sale, however, the purchasing physician may become the legal custodian and must respond to record requests from patients, health facilities, or legal entities.

How Do I Dispose of Records Beyond Their Retention Period?

Adhere to HIPAA-compliant requirements for the secure disposal of records beyond retention periods specified by federal or state law. Records should be destroyed to prevent readability or reconstruction. Partnering with a records custodian for this process is recommended.

What Are Some Ethical Practices to Incorporate?

Incorporate ethical practices to ensure a positive transition:

  • Do not accept new patients after announcing the closure.
  • Provide notices to all patients at least three months in advance and attach a copy to patients’ records.
  • Offer options for continued service, possibly through an agreement with another practitioner.
  • Communicate openly to dispel uncertainties and thank patients and the community for their support.

How Do I Manage This Transition?

Closing a medical practice is a lengthy process and requires a careful strategy, including the responsible management of records. It is not advisable to undertake this alone, as compliance with privacy laws persists even after closure.

Collaborate with a reputable records custodian like Cariend, ensuring continued care and custody of medical records. Cariend will guide you through the transition, maintaining compliance with state and federal laws. When closing your practice, call us at 855-516-0612 or complete the form on this page for expert assistance.

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