Closing or Relocating

Section 456.057, Florida Statutes, sets forth the requirements that must be followed when a physician retires, closes his office or relocates his practice.  The statute adopts the concept of a “records owner.”  A “records owner” may or may not be a physician.  A “records owner” means any health care practitioner who generates a medical record after making a physical or mental examination of, or administering treatment or dispensing legend drugs to, any person; any health care practitioner to whom records are transferred by a previous records owner; or any health care practitioner’s employer, including, but not limited to, group practices and staff‑model health maintenance organizations, provided the employment contract or agreement between the employer and the health care practitioner designates the employer as the records owner. Section 456.057(2), Florida Statutes.  The statute requires the “records owner” to notify patients of the retirement, closing or relocation of a physician.  When the records owner retires, terminates a practice, or is no longer available to patients, Section 456.057(13), Florida Statutes, requires the records owner to notify the patients of the termination, relocation or unavailability in the following manner:

Publish in a local newspaper a notice containing the date of termination or relocation and include an address where the records may be obtained from the physician terminating practice or another licensed physician.  This is now required by law (Florida Administrative Code 64B8-10.002(4).)  A copy of this notice must also be submitted to the Florida Board of Medicine.

Physicians may also, but are not required to, notify patients in writing of the date of termination or relocation and include an address where the records may be obtained from the physician terminating practice or another licensed physician) or place a sign in a conspicuous location on the façade of the physician’s office.

Both notices must advise patients of their opportunity to obtain a copy of their records.

In addition, Section 456.057(14), Florida Statutes, requires that the records owner notify the Florida Board of Medicine and advise the Board who the new record owner is, and where the physician’s medical records can be found.  The records owner should also review all managed care contracts to determine if any notification provisions must be complied with.

This change will primarily affect employed physicians whose employment agreement designates the employer as the records owner. It will have little effect on other physicians, especially those physicians in independent practice.  In that case, the physician who generated the record after treating the patient will be considered to be the “records owner,” and, therefore, the requirements discussed above will fall upon the physician.  In the case of an employed physician (whose employment agreement designates the employer as the records owner), this responsibility is placed upon the employer.

It is important to note that 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 records may be obtained from the physician terminating practice or another licensed physician. A copy of the notice must be submitted to the Board within one month from the termination or relocation.  The rule also gives physicians the option of either placing a sign in a conspicuous location in or on the façade of the physician’s office or notifying patients by letter of the termination, sale or relocation of the practice (this is NOT required, however), in addition to publishing the notice in the local newspaper. The sign or letter must notify patients of their opportunity to transfer or receive their records.  The requirements set forth in the Board’s rule are separate and apart from the requirements set forth in Section 456.057, Florida Statutes, and must be followed by all licensed physicians.

Concomitantly, a physician is responsible for ensuring that these records will be available to his former patients for a period of five (5) years from their last visit.  A physician thus must make arrangements to either have another physician become the new records owner, have a medical records service store copies of the medical records and provide copies upon request to former patients, or himself be available to provide copies.