Articles and Case Studies

Leaving a group practice

13 Oct 2020

Karen Stephens

by Karen Stephens

Man and woman in conversation

Current patients should be told you are leaving and when, and that other doctors at the practice will be able to take over their care.

What are my obligations if I am leaving a group practice to work elsewhere?

If you have an employment contract, before accepting a new position or starting your own business, check for restraint of trade clauses, exit requirements and other relevant contract terms.

Your professional obligations as stated in the Medical Board's Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia1 are:

  • 4.16.1 Giving advance notice when this is possible
  • 4.16.2 Facilitating arrangements for the continuing medical care of all your current patients, including the transfer or appropriate management of all patient records. You must follow the law governing health records in your jurisdiction.

 

How much notice do I need to give the practice owner?

If not specified in an employment contract, you can negotiate with the practice owner, but two to four weeks’ notice is generally considered reasonable. In rural and remote areas, longer notice periods may be needed. You should provide your notice in writing and you may consider independent legal advice.

What can I tell my patients?

It’s best to agree with the practice owner about communication to patients. Consider a letter or email to all your regular patients, or a notice in the waiting room or on the practice website. You should also tell patients during consultations.

Current patients should be told you are leaving and when, and that other doctors at the practice will be able to take over their care. Unless contractually stated, agree with the practice owner about whether you can tell patients where you are going.

Do not use the practice database of patient details to solicit patients to follow you to your new practice. This would be a privacy breach and a misuse of the practice’s commercially sensitive information. An exception would be if the practice owner agreed and patients consented to you using their information for this purpose.

The NSW Supreme Court2 found a doctor breached his implied duty not to use confidential information for a purpose beyond the practice’s function, when the doctor had taken copies of pathology results to contact patients and tell them where he was now working.

Who else should I notify?

  • Specialists and other health professionals you refer to, or who refer to you
  • Medicare – you will need a new provider number
  • Ahpra
  • Anyone from whom you receive mail or email at the practice address
  • MDA National 

 

How do I arrange continuing medical care of my patients?

  • All recalls, reminders and other patient follow-up should be entered into the practice’s follow-up systems, with responsibility assigned to remaining staff.
  • If the practice does not have follow-up systems, provide (and keep a copy of) a written handover. List outstanding test results, results requiring action, specialist referrals, and conditions requiring review.
  • Indicate the urgency of any follow-up which may need to take into account critical patient needs and direct handover to a specific colleague in some cases.
  • Generally the medical records remain the property of the practice, unless there is a specific agreement to the contrary.
  • Seek an agreement that the practice will provide you with a copy of the relevant records if there is a claim, complaint or coronial investigation involving you.
  • A patient who wants to see you at your new practice can request in writing that a copy of their records be provided to them or to your new practice. The “old” practice may charge the patient a reasonable fee for providing the copy, and has up to 30 calendar days to respond to the request.3

 


1. Good medical practice: A code of conduct for doctors in Australia 2020 Available at: medicalboard.gov.au/Codes-Guidelines-Policies/Code-of-conduct.aspx
2. Mid-City Skin Cancer and Laser Centre v Zahedi-Anarak [2006] NSWSC 844 (13 September 2006). Available at: austlii.edu.au/au/cases/nsw/NSWSC/2006/844.html
3. Australian Privacy Principle 12 – Access to personal information, from the Privacy Amendment (Enhancing Privacy Protection) Act 2012, which amends the Privacy Act 1988.

Employment Essentials, General Practice
 

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