By: Alex E. Castellano

Paying close attention to detail and following specific sets of instructions are key when closing down a business – and medical practices are no different.  While patient health records are technically the property of the health care entity maintaining them, health care providers are responsible for ensuring the privacy of the contents of such records.  Therefore, patient records may only be released, transferred, or destroyed under certain circumstances in accordance with the law.  For many practicing physicians, dentists, and other professionals licensed or certified by one of the health regulatory boards under the Department of Health Professions, this leads to questions regarding how to deal with patient medical records upon the sale, closure, or relocation of a practice. 

Virginia law sets strict time limits and notice requirements on the transfer or destruction of patient health records.  While you may agree to sell your practice to another practitioner, your patient has not necessarily consented to this new practitioner maintaining his or her records.  Similarly, while you may choose to close your practice’s doors, your patients have the right to choose where their health records go next.  Therefore, patients must be notified and given options as to how they would like their medical records to be handled.  This not only requires reaching out to individual patients, but also providing public notice in a specifically prescribed manner. 

Some patients will choose to have their health records sent to themselves or their authorized representatives, while others may choose to have their records sent to another practitioner.  A patient’s request regarding the transfer of his or her medical records is a serious matter which should be respected and handled delicately to ensure compliance with the laws. 

When selling, relocating, or closing your medical practice, you will be confronted with numerous questions.  How do I notify my patients?  Which patients do I need to notify?  What do I do with the records of a patient who fails to respond to the notice?  Though daunting, these questions are extremely important and can be answered by an attorney who is knowledgeable on the subject.  A mishandling of patient records, such as an unauthorized disclosure, can expose an otherwise well-intentioned medical practitioner to serious liability. 

Consult an attorney such as myself to ensure that the sale or termination of your medical practice goes smoothly from not only a financial standpoint, but a patient relations standpoint as well.