12 steps to closing your practice without problems


Whether you’ve decided to retire, relocate, or work for your local hospital, unwinding your practice will take time. Physicians can avoid mistakes by planning ahead and making a checklist for what to do and when to do it.

“Doctors shouldn’t assume everything takes care of itself. Many don’t think about compliance issues, patient abandonment, or accounts receivable that they need to keep open to collect from billing, which can occur months after the dates of service,” said David Zetter, president of Zetter HealthCare management consultants in Pennsylvania.

Debra Phairas, president of Practice and Liability Consultants, LLC, in California, suggests doctors start planning for the closing of their practice at least 90-120 days from their closing date.

“Many people and entities need to be notified,” said Ms. Phairas. The list includes patients, payers, vendors, employees, licensing boards, and federal and state agencies.

Medical societies may have specific bylaws that apply; malpractice carriers have rules about how long you should retain medical records; and some state laws require that you communicate that you’re closing in a newspaper, Mr. Zetter added.

Ms. Phairas recommends that physicians decide first whether they will sell their practice or if they’ll just shut it down. If they sell and the buyer is a doctor, they may want to provide transition assistance such as introducing patients and staff, she said. Otherwise, doctors may need to terminate their staff.

After doctors make that decision, Mr. Zetter and Ms. Phairas recommend taking these 12 steps to ensure that the process goes smoothly.

What to do 60-90 days out

1. Check your insurance contracts. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services requires physicians to notify them 90 days after deciding to retire or withdraw from Medicare or Medicaid. Other payers may also require 90 days’ notice to terminate their contracts.

You’ll also need to provide payers with a forwarding address for sending payments after the office closes, and notify your malpractice insurance carrier and any other contracted insurance carriers such as workers’ compensation or employee benefit plans.

2. Buy “tail” coverage. Doctors can be sued for malpractice years after they close their practice so this provides coverage against claims reported after the liability policy expires.

3. Check your hospital contracts. Most hospitals where you have privileges require 90 days’ notice that you are closing the practice.

4. Arrange for safe storage of medical records. If you are selling your practice to another physician, that doctor can take charge of them, as long as you obtain a patient’s consent to transfer the medical records, said Ms. Phairas. Otherwise, the practice is required to make someone the guardian of the records after the practice closes, said Mr. Zetter. This allows patients at a later date to obtain copies of their records at a cost.

“This usually means printing all the records to PDF to be retained; otherwise, doctors have to continue to pay the license fee for the EMR software to access the records, and no practice is going to continue to pay this indefinitely,” said Mr. Zetter.

Check with your malpractice insurance carrier for how long they require medical records to be retained, which may vary for adult and pediatric records.

Ms. Phairas also advises doctors to keep their original records. “The biggest mistake doctors can make is to give patients all their records. Your chart is your best defense weapon in a liability claim.”


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