Duke Health Referring Physicians


Succession Planning for Medical Practices

Three young physicians on medical meeting in the office

A colleague’s unexpected departure or death can be a harrowing event for a medical practice. In addition to managing your emotions, several critical tasks must be completed to keep the office running smoothly.

Make a Checklist
Debra Phairas, president of Practice & Liability Consultants, LLC, and a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants, advises her clients to start by making a checklist of vital tasks.

Check the Agreement
Next, consult the practice’s shareholder agreement. The agreement should detail how the partners will manage the sale or buyback of the practice if one of the partners’ circumstances changes. The remaining partners must then decide whether they wish to sell, close, or transition the practice.

Share Changes
After deciding whether the practice will continue operating, inform your staff and send notification letters to active patients. Patients of the departing physician should be offered the opportunity to have their medical records forwarded. Contact your practice’s malpractice insurance carrier to learn more about current medical record regulations.

Hire Locum Tenens
If the other physicians can’t absorb their colleague’s patients, the practice can bring in a locum tenens physician until a new doctor can be hired. The locum can typically bill under the departed doctor’s billing number for 60 days, Phairas says.

Notify Others
If the remaining partners decide to close or sell the practice, then notify staff, patients, all insurance carriers, and any hospitals where the practice’s doctors have privileges, as well as the referral network. Identify a custodian for the patient medical records, and include a release of information request in the patient notification letter.

Discard Equipment
Determine whether the practice wants to sell or donate medical equipment. Importantly, medications and controlled substances must be disposed of properly. Your local medical society and association are good resources for inquiring about drug-disposal methods.

Maintain an Updated Shareholder Agreement
Although an unexpected departure can be chaotic, an up-to-date shareholder agreement can help. Consider hiring a health care business consultant to create the agreement initially. “There’s so much to think about,” Phairas says. “You really have to look at what could happen and whether you’ll be prepared for it.”