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Where’s My Doctor

By David Wroten, AMS EVP | From the Aug 2017 Journal of the AMS

“Where’s my doctor?” We get that question a lot. It happens often when a physician leaves a practice, usually as an employee. Under most employment contracts the practice – either under hospital or physician ownership – retains ownership of the medical records when a physician leaves. However, the departing physician has a relationship with patients that they’ve treated and retains some responsibility for those patients. The physician has a responsibility to ensure his/her patients are taken care of and that patients currently under treatment are not abandoned.

It is not unusual for AMS to get a call from patients who want to continue their relationship with that physician but cannot find out where they went. Or, the physician wants to notify his/her patients where they’ve relocated but the previous employer will not provide a mailing list or will not notify patients on their own. This seems to be more frequent in hospital-based clinics where the hospital claims that the patients belong “to them.” Courts clearly disagree.

In countless cases, courts routinely agree that the records may belong to the hospital but the legal doctor-patient relationship stays with the treating physician. It’s one thing when a physician leaves town or moves out of state, but often, the physician will leave to open their own practice or join another practice in the same community. It’s not uncommon to hear stories that the hospital says they don’t know where the physician went or patients are simply told their physician is gone and would they like to set an appointment with a new doctor.

So it’s nice when an opportunity presents itself for AMS to help rectify problems that get in the way of professional relationships with patients. That opportunity came in the form of HB 1718, now Act 754. HB 1718, The Patient Right to Know Act, was introduced by Rep. Deborah Ferguson at our request. In a nutshell, it attempts to ensure that patients are able to find their physician or that physicians are able to notify their patients when they leave a practice.

Under Act 754, if a physician makes the new practice location or contact information available to the entity they are leaving, that entity is now prohibited from misleading the patient about the whereabouts of the physician or failing to provide the patient with the new contact information. If requested by the departing physician, within 21 days the entity must either provide the physician a mailing list of his/her existing patients, or send a notice to the physician’s existing patients with the new contact information.

What happens when a physician leaves and they still have patients scheduled? Within two days of the request mentioned above, the entity must provide the physician with the names and contact information of patients who have upcoming appointments with that physician.

AMS believes these simple measures will go a long way to prevent disruptions in patient care and avoid many of the problems and even lawsuits that currently occur because departing physicians are unable to fulfill their legal and ethical obligations for continuity of care. Act 754 is but one of the many legislative issues highlighted in this (Aug) issue of The Journal.

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