The closure of a medical practice can be a difficult transition for both patients and providers. There are certain things providers are required to do to help ensure that their patients can continue to access appropriate care.
What Patients Should Do
- Find a new doctor When you find out that your doctor will no longer be practicing, you should find a new doctor. The Department of Health cannot recommend a healthcare provider but we do have a tool that will help you find doctors, advanced practice nurses and physicians assistants by specialty in your city or town. If you have insurance you should also check on the insurers site to see if that provider will accept your insurance. If you do not have insurance, or qualify to pay on a sliding scale, you should consider the community health centers in Rhode Island.
- Have a plan for your medications If you are out of your medication(s) and you need more, you will need to find a new doctor to get a prescription. You need to know, however, that a new doctor will treat you as a new patient. He or she may not prescribe the same medication as your previous doctor. (If you have been taking opioids for chronic pain, this may be a particularly difficult transition for you. A new doctor may feel that you have become physically dependent on the drug and may recommend that you stop using it. You may also want to take this time to find a provider who can help you stop using opioid medication.)
- Get your records Your doctor’s office is required to give you access to your medical records, even if you cannot afford to pay for them. You will need your medical records as you transition to a new healthcare provider.
What Healthcare Providers Should do
Physicians and other healthcare providers who retire or stop practicing for other reasons should do their best to provide patients with continuity of care. When practices break up or separate, keep the patients’ interests first and foremost. The Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline frowns upon complaints that suggest physicians are fighting over patients or “using the patients” as part of the break up. Rhode Island law specifically requires that you:
- Try to resolve open patient cases;
- Publish a notice 90 days before closing a practice in a newspaper with statewide circulation, including information on how patients can get their medical records (when a physician is deceased, the heirs or the estate must give the same public notice within 90 days);
- Send a letter to patients that have been seen within the past year notifying them of the practice closure;
- Notify the Rhode Island Medical Society and the Rhode Island Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline of location of medical records;
- Create a way for patients to get their medical
records for at least the next 5 years; (Though a fee can be charged for copying, the transfer of the record cannot be delayed due to lack of payment.)
- Notify your malpractice carrier and make sure you have adequate coverage after you have stopped working.