Healthcare professionals and dentists are often confronted with a recurring issue regarding patient charts when selling, buying or leaving a clinic. There are many uncertainties with regards to questions such as:
Who owns the patient charts following the sale of a dental practice?
Can the treating dentist obtain a copy of a patient’s records that he or she has been treating at the clinic?
Are there any ethical obligations that the parties need to abide by regarding their professional order relating to patient records?
PATIENT OWNERSHIP OF DENTAL RECORDS
Canadian courts and professional orders in Quebec have claimed that dentists do not have ownership rights on the patients themselves. Patients are always free to choose their treating dentist and it is the client’s interests that must be protected. Thus, they cannot be tied to any dentist nor clinic out of obligation. If a patient chooses to leave a dentist to follow another dentist, the clinic owner must provide the dental records to the patient or to the treating dentist upon receiving a request from the patient.
Sometimes and associate has been treating a certain patient at the clinic where he has been working for many years and decides to leave that clinic either to open up how own clinic or work somewhere else. A dispute can arise between the associate leaving the clinic and the owner-dentist of that clinic. Our team has often advised dentists on how to handle these types of situations:
Can the associate leaving the clinic obtain the records of the patients he or she was treating while at the clinic?
Who, between the owner-dentist or associate dentist can inform the patients of the associate that such associate is no longer providing services at the clinic?
Does the owner-dentist have an obligation to inform the patients of the associate that the associate is no longer working at the clinic? And if so, how best to inform the patients? when they call to book an appointment or in writing by mail or email?
Who owns the patient records, the owner-dentist or the associate who treated the patient?
PROTECTING THE OWNER-DENTIST FROM LOSING PATIENTS WHEN AN ASSOCIATE LEAVES THE CLINIC
In the context of a sale or acquisition of a clinic, active patient records are included in the clinic’s goodwill, which is considered an asset of the practice being sold. It is always in the best interest of the owner-dentist to protect this asset as much as possible. When hiring associates in your clinic, there is always a risk that the associate will one day leave to either open their own clinic or find employment elsewhere. It is extremely important to have a written agreement PRIOR to engaging a new associate in order to set out proper guidelines regarding the retention of patient records should the associate decide to leave. We regularly assist owner-dentist in helping them draft proper associate agreements including non-competition clauses and non-solicitation clauses for patients treated at the clinic during the associate’s stay.
Such issues and uncertainties can be handled with a carefully drafted associate’s agreement. A standard template will simply not suffice to prevent a future conflict with regards to the patient records. To ensure that all these questions are carefully dealt with, our team of legal professionals are available to assist you in the process of the sale or acquisition of a clinic and make sure that no adverse impacts may arise following this transaction.