Articles and Case Studies

Retiring from Medical Practice

27 Feb 2015

by Ms Nerissa Ferrie

Seated man looks contemplative

As you move away from practising medicine, many issues need to be considered to ensure that the transition is optimal for you, your patients and your colleagues.

Retirement from medical practice requires careful planning and execution, particularly for doctors who wish to continue to contribute to the profession after they cease clinical practice.

“Challenges when retiring… the psychological effect of loss of collegiality with peers and the profession in general, with the extended family of patients and professional status.” Professor John Murtagh, Victoria

For many doctors, there is a sense of excitement and opportunity associated with retirement. For some, the thought of leaving clinical practice fills them with dread. If this is the case, the practical and emotional fallout can be overwhelming if proper consideration is not given to the transition process.

It is important to recognise that a lifetime of dedication to patient care may not be easy to walk away from “cold turkey”. Consider reducing your hours gradually, or seek out a non-clinical role that will allow you to use your expert knowledge to give back to the profession and/or the community, such as teaching or volunteer work.

Below we address some of the practical considerations you should be aware of when planning your retirement.

First steps

How you will manage the practical aspects of your retirement will depend upon the current status of your medical practice. Are you a sole practitioner or a sub-contractor in a large medical practice? Do you have a formal contract, or are you the employer of staff? Do you supervise other practitioners and need to make arrangements to pass this task to someone else? These are things you need to think about when you first start the process.

Informing patients

Unless your retirement is imminent or unplanned, you should provide your patients with sufficient time to find a new doctor, and arrange the transfer of their medical records.

You can notify patients by signage in the practice, by post or during consultations. It is a legal requirement to publish a formal notice of your practice closure in the local newspaper if you practice in the ACT or Victoria, but we would also recommend this for doctors in other states.

Retirement can be a stressful time for doctors and patients alike. To ensure patients can transition as smoothly as possible, you should communicate:

  • the date you will cease practice
  • whether you intend to sell or close your practice
  • options for ongoing care
  • how to arrange transfer of records to another practice.

Storage of medical records

If you are simply leaving a practice, and your patients are being managed by other doctors within the practice, there is no need to make specific arrangements regarding the medical records.

If you transfer ownership of the practice to another doctor/entity, the new owner will likely take ownership of the medical records as part of the contract of sale. If this is the case, the new practice should seek the consent of each patient for the “transfer” of records to occur. You should also negotiate appropriate access to the records in the event of a claim or investigation down the track.

If you are a sole practitioner, you are required to keep the records safely and securely for the legislated time period or as recommended by MDA National. If your practice is closing, records should be securely stored where they are protected from damage, loss or theft and can be easily retrieved. If you use a commercial company specialising in storage and disposal of records, we recommend you request a written record of certification.

For storage of electronic health records, you may need to liaise with the software company regarding the need to maintain your software licence for future access to records as required. Although you may have legal custody of the records, you still need the means to access them.

And finally, cull any records which are no longer required to be kept and arrange for them to be securely destroyed. For adult patients, the minimum statutory period is seven years from the date of the last entry. For patients who were under 18 years of age at the date of the last entry, the records should be kept until the patient turns 25 years of age.

Advise your MDO

You should contact your MDO to discuss your retirement plans. This will ensure you maintain appropriate cover, particularly if you intend to continue your medical career in another capacity such as teaching or medico-legal reporting.

“Discuss the medico-legal aspects of your indemnity with your insurers and reflect on any possible potential liability issues that could surface post-retirement.” Professor John Murtagh, Victoria

Advising others

You may wish to notify colleagues; local hospitals and healthcare centres; and pathology, radiology and outpatient services of your plans to ensure continuity of care for your patients.

You should also advise Medicare, AHPRA and your College to ensure all regulatory and professional requirements are being met. If you wish to maintain your registration with AHPRA, you will need to be aware of the registration standards required, such as continuous professional development.

If you decide to maintain non-practising registration with AHPRA, you can continue to use the title “medical practitioner” and be subject to professional conduct requirements, but you MUST NOT provide medical treatment or opinion to an individual (including yourself), prescribe medication or issue referrals to other health professionals.

A registered business

If you have a registered business, we strongly recommend you discuss your plans with a financial adviser or taxation accountant, as you will have obligations to meet in relation to ASIC and the Australian Tax Office.

Other considerations

If you are an employer, you will also have additional obligations. You should:

  • keep staff informed of your plans
  • be aware of your statutory and contractual obligations regarding staff entitlements – the Fair Work Act (2009) outlines the amount of notice required for termination of employment, based on the employee’s period of continuous service
  • ensure all tax, superannuation, FBT reporting, leave and termination payments are made, and provide employees with a group certificate payment summary prior to 14 July in the year following cessation of employment
  • retain employee records securely for seven years
  • review leasing agreements, other insurance policies, debtors and creditors, and utilities and mail arrangements
  • consider the need to retain one staff member in the immediate post-retirement period to assist you with administrative tasks.

ARE YOU PREPARED?

Review any current contracts, including leasing and equipment hire.

Engage with your MDO regarding your ongoing insurance needs.

Timing is everything. Decide when you will actually cease clinical practice and work to those timeframes.

Inform your patients of your decision to allow them time to find a new doctor.

Respectfully decline to take on any new patients in the lead up to retirement, unless it is a one-off emergency situation.

Ensure your professional bodies (AHPRA, Medicare, and Colleges) are advised of your plans, and inform colleagues and health services to ensure continuity of care for your patients.


Nerissa Ferrie
Medico-legal Adviser
MDA National

See the article To Do or Not To DO where MDA National Member, A/Prof David Watson provides his personal reflection on retirement. Read our Retirement Brochure.

 

 
Employment Essentials, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Practice Manager Or Owner, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery
 

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