General practice tool kit

Closing, relocating, merging and selling your practice

Patient considerations

Last revised: 24 Oct 2019

Maintaining continuity of care

When your practice is going through an organisational change, you must decide how you will maintain continuity of care for your patients.

For example:

  • what notice of the change will you give your patients, and how will you inform them?
  • if you are closing, selling or relocating, how will you achieve continuity of care?
  • how will you transfer or otherwise manage patient records?

If you are closing the practice permanently or relocating, notify patients at the earliest practicable time. This will help them and you manage their transfer to another practice or practitioner, if necessary.

Use a variety of ways to inform patients about the change, such as notices in the local newspaper and on your website, social media posts, text messages, your voicemail and hold messages, and signs in your practice. You can also tell your practice staff to mention it whenever they are communicating with patients.

Some state and territory governments have legislation regarding the notification of practice closure, so check the legislation in your jurisdiction.

Whether your medical records need to be shared, transferred or stored, you must make all reasonable efforts to ensure they are managed in a safe and legal manner according to privacy legislation and the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs).

Relevant state, territory and federal laws relating to the collection, storage, use, disclosure and disposal of patients’ health and personal details continue to apply when you sell or close a general practice.

Transferring health information

Your practice should have a documented and auditable system for the secure transfer of patients’ health information, regardless of the reason for the transfer. For example, if you are closing or changing your practice, or if a patient wants to transfer their health records to another practice at any time. All transfer of information must comply with the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs).

In addition, we recommend that you obtain written consent from each patient to have their health information transferred to protect against legal action for breach of privacy requirements.

Retention and storage of medical records

Each state and territory specifies minimum retention periods for health records.
In some jurisdictions, records of people over 18 need to be kept for 7 years, and records of children must be kept until they are 25.

Many insurers recommend that practices keep health records indefinitely.

Tip

Consider retaining patient records indefinitely even after you cease practising, in case there is a medical indemnity claim and you need to provide records and/or defend your practice.

In the lead-up to an organisational change, establish and implement continuity-of-care measures. For example:

  • if a new GP has been arranged, consider copying them in o n requests for services ordered by your practice, such as referrals, pathology requests, and diagnostic imaging
  • forward test results to patients along with clear instructions to follow up with a GP
  • notify hospitals, specialists and other local practices of your change
  • update the practice’s details on the National Health Services directory
  • discuss the change with patients, to help them self-manage their continuity of care, and accommodate patients and patient populations based on their needs. For example, patients with ongoing complex issues and risks might need more of your time and attention to understand how to deal with the change; a generally well patient who attends infrequently for preventive health screening or acute issues may not need so much help adjusting to the change.

Contractors can generally be terminated without a process, however, contracts can be complex, so seek professional advice to confirm your contractual requirements and obligations.

During the change period, maintain good relationships with contractors and communicate with them frequently so they have sufficient notice of upcoming changes.

Medical service providers

Notify medical service providers who you refer patients to or receive referrals from.

Other service providers

Notify other service providers (eg cleaning, IT, pathology, Disability Insurance), and arrange for contracts to be amended or terminated, as required.

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