When moving, merging or closing a practice, a physician must take appropriate steps to avoid claims of “patient abandonment.” More importantly a medical office and physician will want to maintain “Continuity of Care” for the patient for both health and monetary reasons. By ensuring proper procedures are taken a physician may avoid investigation and legal action if a complaint is filed.
It is important to note that in Florida the Board of Medicine has adopted a rule that imposes certain requirements on physicians who relocate or terminate their practices and are no longer available to patients. Rule 64B8-10.002(4), Florida Administrative Code, requires physicians to publish a notice once a week for four consecutive weeks in a local newspaper of greatest circulation. The notice must contain the date of termination or relocation and include an address where the office has moved or medical records may be obtained. You should also place multiple signs in your office and mail a letter or postcard to notify patients of the change and if necessary how to obtain their medical records.
Placing an ad in a newspaper is an old law and has a little effect in properly notifying your patients. Most people don’t read the paper or even know where to find the notice. This requirement can cause serious consequences to the medical practice and the physician. Complaints can be filed and legal action may be taken by the patient because they were not properly notified. Additionally loss of revenue and improper continuity of patient care will occur.
To ensure proper notification is made physicians should contact a HIPAA compliant Medical Direct Mailing and Marketing Company (MDMC). This should be done at least 6 weeks prior to the move to allow enough time to get everything ready. The MDMC will sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) protecting the patient information and reducing the liability of the practice. The physician will securely transfer the patient’s addresses to the MDMC and they will clean the list to verify all addresses are accurate by going through a complex address verification system and will return the cleaned list to update the physician’s records before any mail is sent. This process not only updates the contact info for the medical office but it also ensures that the correct patient receives the notification. This address verification service is a requirement before mailing and also reduces the cost of postage to an average of 24 cents each. There also is no returned mail because each address was verified for accurate delivery. Once mailed the MDMC provides official certification that all notifications were sent and when a legal challenge may come up the physician has proof of delivery, this is something a newspaper ad can’t do.
If a medical office does this internally the average cost of mailing with a first class stamp, printing, addressing and time is about $3 each when you add it all up. There is also about a 10% mail return rate because addresses were not verified. The other consequences of doing this internally are sending a letter to the wrong person which creates a HIPAA violation and you have no certified proof of mailing.
If an office is moving the MDMC may recommend a large 6 x 11 full color postcard showing all the positive reasons the medical office is moving with a map of the new location and images of the new office, staff and features. Adding items such as more convenience, extended hours, new services, modern equipment, alternate payment and insurance options is a great benefit to lost prior patients and will create more referrals. Making the notification a marketing piece generally produces an instant ROI and brings older patients back. This is another reason it is important to pull your patient list for at least the last 5 years.
The average cost for this style mailing including design, address verification, printing, postage and mail certification is about .50 each. That’s about the cost of a regular stamp and about 80% less than if an office did it internally. Extra cards can be provided to the office as handouts and marketing materials for a few cents more.
Other important information when a medical office moves is to change ALL online information immediately. You must change your website and make sure the information about the office move is very prominent also provide a map image and directional map link. Make sure your phone messages announce the move. Both the website and messages should clearly state the date of the move. New appointment cards should made and any patient who has a follow up appointment after the scheduled move date should be given a card with the new address highlighted.
Due to the fact we live in an internet based society and use travel apps to get through traffic a medical office must change ALL online map directories. All other social media platforms must be changed too. It is imperative that sites like Healthgrades, Vitals and other medical ranking sites be changed. Some of these sites rank patient feedback and if you get bad scores it can be reported to CMS and insurance companies that can penalize your practice.
Moving a practice is challenging but using a company that specializes in medical marketing and HIPAA complaint direct mailing can make the task much easier. The last thing you want to have happen when you move to a new location is to have low patient volume, complaints and lawsuits. Doing it the correct way insures increased revenue but more importantly makes happy and healthier patients because the continuity of care is uninterrupted.
By Chuck Wright
For over 3 decades Chuck Wright has been providing printing and HIPPA compliant marketing and mailing services for medical offices of all modalities. He is the owner of TwiHealthcare and is also president of Medical Office Resources of Florida (MOROF) he can be reached at Chuck@twiservices.com or 407-260-0565.