South Florida Hospital News
Friday December 15, 2017
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January 2011 - Volume 7 - Issue 7

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Patient Retention When Terminating Employment: A Sensitive Issue

Retention of patients is a key issue surrounding the resignation of a physician from a group practice. If the physician’s employment contract contains a non-compete provision with an extensive geographic area restriction, then patient retention issues are not likely to arise. In many situations, however, a non-compete provision may not exist or the provision is written in a way that does not seriously affect the ability of the physician to continue to see existing patients. In either case, departing physicians will want to continue to see as many current patients as possible. To allow this to happen, it is very important that the physician’s employment contract addresses patient retention issues.

Communications to existing patients also is an important concern. The departing physician must be concerned with how current patients are being informed about the transition. A lack of focus on this issue can cause great confusion and the loss of patients.
 
I have seen in my practice, for example, situations involving a former employer contacting the patients of the departing physician to tell them -- incorrectly – that such physician has left the area and can no longer serve them. Thus, it is essential that a physician has control over how patients are informed of the departure. Physicians who do not properly notify their patients give the employer more opportunity to reach out to those people. Imagine your patients calling the office to set up appointments only to find out you are leaving. This call gives the employer’s representatives the perfect chance to tell the patient anything they want.
 
Employment agreements should be perfectly clear that all patients must be informed in the same manner. The most practical way to create this situation is for the parties to agree, in advance, upon a uniform notice that is required to be sent to all patients treated by the physician upon his or her departure. This notice should be attached as an addendum to the physician’s employment agreement before it is signed by the physician. Both parties should also agree that the notice will be sent, at the same time, to all patients seen by the departing physician within the past year at such patients’ last known address.
 
If unrestricted by contract, a departing physician should have every right to retain a patient who desires to see that physician. The physician’s former group should also be able to keep a patient if the patient chooses. However, the playing field should be level, and the rules should be set in advance.
Fred Segal is a member of the Broad and Cassel Health Law Practice Group. He is based in the Firm’s Miami office. He can be reached at (305) 373-9400 or fsegal@broadandcassel.com.
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