It's common for people to dread the eventuality of having their doctor retire or move away. After all, one of the most intimate relationships in a person's life is the one they share with their family physician. As skilled listeners, compassionate supporters, and medical experts, primary-care physicians — and their staff — guide people through births, deaths, illnesses, injuries, and aging.
It takes time for physicians and patients to develop mutual trust and respect, and once that rapport has been cultivated, most patients never want to see it end.
Employees at a medical practice are in the same position. As members of a collaborative team, the last thing they want to hear is that their livelihood is about to come to an end against their will.
Whether you've decided to retire, relocate, or retreat from practice, you can reduce the pain for your patients and staff by following these five guidelines:
1. Develop a plan. Before announcing that you're closing your practice, create a realistic timeline and chart your course. Whether you have the luxury of ample time between your decision and your departure, or you're leaving urgently, it's imperative to establish a firm end date, procure legal advice, determine a strategy for when and how you're going to share the news, and gather helpful resources for your patients and staff.
2. Take a deep breath. No matter why you've decided to move on, you can expect this to be as emotional for you as it is for others. Patients and colleagues will have touched your heart over the years, and you'll be leaving valuable memories and relationships behind. You may find it helpful to talk with others who have closed their practice in order to glean some insight about how to handle this aspect of your professional journey. This is also a time when you will benefit from the understanding and kindness of family and friends.
3. Notify staff first. Never is employee loyalty more important than when you are about to close your practice. Whether you are supported by a solo assistant or a team of 20, your staff needs to know about your plans before your patients are notified. Not only will they potentially be out of a job, they're the ones who will be fielding questions and advising patients about next steps. It is critical that they know exactly how you expect them to handle things.
It is equally crucial that you express your gratitude to them for seeing you through this transition. Be prepared to encourage their job hunt by providing reference letters, being flexible with time off for job interviews, and actively listen for job opportunities within the medical community. Consider bringing a career expert in to offer advice on how to update a resume and prepare for an interview. You'll also need to review employment contracts and decide if severance will be offered. It is advisable to seek professional advice when considering this option.
4. Share vital information with patients. Continuity of care is essential, and the more lead time and clarity you can provide for patients, the better. Many will be shocked to hear about your plans, and they'll be looking for your empathy and guidance. This may be your final opportunity to advise them. Out of respect, notify patients at least 3 months before taking your leave if possible, and provide a document that outlines facts including when the practice is closing, the transference of medical records, how to get prescriptions renewed, and where to look for another primary-care physician.
Other professional responsibilities include understanding the legalities surrounding how long records must be kept, and whether you are obligated or allowed to provide your contact information to other practitioners, as these regulations vary from place to place. Check with state and federal agencies, as well as your insurance provider, to ensure you are in compliance.
5. Make a public announcement. Despite your best intentions to notify everyone about your office closure, some people won't receive the message. In addition to sending a letter or e-mail to patients and colleagues, consider other options such as running an ad in the newspaper and posting notices at the local pharmacy, hospital, and electronic community bulletin boards to broaden the reach of your declaration. If you have an online presence, such as a website, Facebook page, or Twitter account, utilize those sites to systematically spread the word and provide pertinent and timely information.
The change you're embarking on will affect many lives. You can provide a prescription for relief through strategic planning, ample notification, and clear communication.
Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran Forensic Medical Investigator turned Corporate Civility Consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com