There are many reasons for closing a practice. Some are positive-such as the reward of a happy retirement-and others may be painful-such as the repercussions of a large lawsuit. No matter what lies behind the decision to close, the fact remains that this is a time of intense transition for you, your staff and your patients. Handled sensitively and responsibly, the process doesn’t have to be painful.
Notify everyone early
Your legal responsibilities to patients require that you provide them with sufficient notice. You should contact your state licensing board, malpractice insurance carrier or attorney to find out what notice period is required for your patients. The general guideline is at least three months. All “active patients”-anyone seen in the last 2 years-should receive a mailed letter informing them of your last date of availability.You should also include information on emergency care and a list of local physicians’ practices that would accept them as new patients. Patients should also get a medical records release form and details on how to access their medical information now and in the future. Put a copy of this letter into each patient’s file to show that you’ve properly notified the patient.
Help staff move on
The other half of the notification task involves your staff. It’s always difficult to tell someone that his or her employment is ending, and you may also worry that staff will leave for new employment before you’re ready to see them go. It’s a risk you take, but dealing with staff honestly and early will do a lot to preserve relationships. You may be surprised by their loyalty. When possible, a retention bonus for staff who stay until the end can smooth the road for everyone.
To make things easier, prepare letters of recommendation and referral for each of your employees. You’ll need to look into severance packages-while you are not required by law to provide severance, any employee contracts or policies with severance provisions are binding and must be honored. You are also required to pay out accrued unused vacation and sick time. Issues of unemployment insurance and COBRA may also apply to your practice.
Have someone at the helm
When you’re closing your medical practice, operations such as dealing with outstanding collections, deciding how and where to store medical records for the required length of retention, disposing of practice assets, dealing with an enormous volume of official correspondence and all the many other tasks add up to a large volume of work. Are you prepared to handle this? Often, your practice manager is a key player in this process, but if he or she moves on or is not able to take on this role, you may want to consider bringing in a consultant. An experienced, guiding hand can be invaluable. Not only will hiring a consultant reduce stress during this time, but he or she can also safeguard you against costly operational or legal mistakes.
Moving on brings significant challenges, but the way you approach closing your practice makes all the difference. If you plan well and are prepared, you will have every reason to face the future with confidence.