Physicians establish a relationship with their patients, particularly when there is an expectation of ongoing care. This is true whether you work in a walk-in clinic, have a longstanding family practice or are a specialist who sees patients for ongoing care. As such, you have an obligation to help your patients navigate any transition in your practice.
What patients can reasonably expect when their doctor is relocating a short distance away vs. closing or leaving their practice for an extended period/distant location is different, so the College has now clarified these expectations in two Standards of Practice: Relocating a Medical Practice (new) and Closing or Leaving a Medical Practice (revised). Here’s what you need to know:
If you are RELOCATING your practice within a distance your patients could reasonably travel, you must:
- give your patients at least 45 days notice (documented), and
- inform your patients they can follow you to your new practice for a period of at least 12 months after your relocation.
If you are CLOSING OR LEAVING a medical practice (i.e., discontinuing practice with no intention of returning, taking a leave of absence for more than 12 months, significantly changing the scope of practice, moving too far for your patients to reasonably travel or significantly decreasing the volume of your practice), you must:
- Give your patients at least 90 days notice (documented), and
- Do everything you can to ensure the continuity of their care, including informing the College of arrangements you’ve made for follow-up of diagnostic tests and transfer of care, the location and disposition of your medical records and your new contact information.
Medical records. Few issues are brought to the College’s attention more often than disposition of medical records. If you are in practice with partners or in a clinic with multiple practitioners, you must sign an information sharing agreement that meets the College’s requirement to keep patient records secure and accessible for at least 10 years. With continuity of care paramount, the agreement must clearly describe who will have custody of the records, how access will be managed and who will pay the costs of copies provided to physicians who are party to the agreement.