Navigating the Complex Waters of Closing Your Healthcare Practice

Karen Snyder

You’ve spent years caring for your patients, and now you’re ready to kick back and retire. Well, almost.

You see, closing your healthcare practice doesn’t absolve you of your legal obligation to properly retain patient records until they can be legally, and securely destroyed. Since pitfalls can be your downfall when closing your healthcare practice, here are six considerations to be mindful of:

  1. Insufficient Retention: The type of record, date of last visit and the age of the patient should all be taken into consideration when determining how long to retain records. Don’t forget that malpractice insurance or pending legal action may require records to be held longer to guarantee coverage or settle a lawsuit. Before setting your retention policy, be sure to consult with your insurance carrier and legal advisor.

  2. Improper Notification: Some states require certification that patients have been notified prior to your practice is closing. Letters and/or postings should disclose where and how long the medical records are being stored and how patients can request them.
  3. Timeliness of Release: HIPAA requires access to requested protected health information (PHI) within 30 calendar days from receiving an individual’s request, and some states have even shorter timelines. Privacy laws also provide individuals the right to receive an accounting of disclosures of protected health information. Managing these processes is complex and the time and resources required are often underestimated.
  4. The “Long Tail” of Record Requests: It’s shortsighted to assume that the volume of patient records released will subside after the first few months post-closing. Authorized requests for records may be made for years after your practice closes. The same record can be requested multiple times – not only by patients, but by insurance carriers, healthcare auditors, attorneys and social security – who can all require copies of records for many years.
  5. Insecure storage: Storing archival records in a private residence or self-storage facility does not properly safeguard and protect records nor does it limit access to these records per HIPAA guidelines.
  6. Inadequate vetting of e-Record Solutions: As patient records become more electronic, you’ll need a solution that contemplates paper and e-records. While cost is a critical consideration, many providers focus too heavily on price only to later discover that the solution doesn’t offer the functionality required. For example, some e-record solutions do not support PDF extraction of the records. Others support PDF extraction but charge an incremental – and often hefty – conversion fee. Make certain you choose a solution that delivers what you need at a cost that you can afford.

As you sail into the sunset (literally), it’s important to have the right crew. Look for an information management company that follows records management best practices and can support your long-term needs for storing, releasing and destroying records when the appropriate time comes. Always consult your attorney and insurance provider prior to finalizing your plans to close your healthcare practice.

Before navigating this complex task, take a moment to test your knowledge so you start out right and stay on course.

 

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