Sudden deaths or incapacity raises immediate problems in the areas of clinical coverage, administrative responsibilities, and medical records. In the event of a sudden property closure due to such emergencies, an action plan should be developed in advance. This article provides relevant and practical information to assist with planning in the event of an emergency closure.
It should be noted that, though useful for medical practices that may be planning to close their office, this article does not cover planned closure, transfer or sale of a clinical practice. In addition, it should be advised that this is not intended to replace the advice of a lawyer with relevant expertise.
1. Clinical Environment
At the time of an emergency closing of a practice, a number of people and different parties will need to be notified. There are action steps that will need to be completed. Information concerning keys, passwords, security codes needed to access the practice’s records may need to be communicated to the designated administrator. This information should also be provided to the physician’s attorney. The attorney’s office, practice staff and the family of the physician should keep a record of the contact information for the administrator.
The agencies that will need to be notified from a clinical standpoint include staff, patients, hospitals/clinic affiliations, and third party vendors. Depending on the size and scope of the practice, and the individual physician’s roles and responsibilities in the practice, there could be numerous clinical associates and partners.
2. Physician Office Staff
It is imperative to notify the staff as soon as possible. They are the people who can assist the administrator immediately. At this time, practice staff will appreciate personal contact and condolences. Many will be concerned about their own employment and financial futures.
Be prepared to communicate and address the following questions that may arise: How long will the practice remain opened? What kind of benefit package/retirement benefit was agreed to at the time of hire? How will Sick Time and Vacation Time balances be paid out? Direct the questions about benefits and/or payment of benefits to payroll and/or legal counsel.
3. Patients and Patient Family
It is important to notify patients as soon as possible about the closing of the practice. First, at the time that the staff are notified, a new message on the practice answering machine should be recorded which states that the practice is currently closed and all sessions have been cancelled until further notice, and who the patient needs to contact for immediate assistance or prescription refills.
As soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours, the practice should send a letter to all the active patients. This letter should list physicians who have agreed to assist the physician’s patients in the interim. This letter should also explain to the patients how to obtain copies of their records. Send these letters by “Registered Mail” with a “Received Return Receipt.” This documentation can be placed in patient’s record.
Notify scheduled patients and cancel their appointments ASAP. Using the same method used to confirm sessions, the staff should contact the patients and let them know that all sessions have been cancelled until further notice. If the practice knows the time frame the letters are going to go out, the staff should let the patients know to expect the letter at that time.
It may also be a good idea to put a sign on the office door. It can state: “All patient visits have been cancelled until further notice; please call (office number) for further information.”
4. Third Party Vendors and Partners
It makes sense to have a list of Hospital/Agency Affiliations and their contact information readily available. This will make it easier to make the required notifications.
Third Party Payers need to be informed that the physician will no longer be practicing. It is important that the third party payers not accidentally refer new patients. The information will assist third party payers to track their availability of providers for the local area.
5. Regulatory Environment
You need to notify the state medical board(s) where your physicians are licensed. There are often penalties associated with not notifying these agencies in a timely manner. Locating the addresses and contact information in advance and maintaining the list with other material discussed will facilitate these steps at the time of the emergency.
For example, it is important to notify the state medical board(s) that the physician will no longer be treating patients. The information they will need includes: the date of licensure and the license number.
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In the event of a sudden property closure due to sudden emergencies or deaths, this guide will get you started in planning ahead. Whether you are planning to close your practice or setting up an action plan, Boulevard Medical Properties can help you.