Sale or closure of a practice
A practice’s patient list is a valuable asset, and it is unlikely a practice would be sold without it.
The Privacy Act is not clear on the sale or transfer of medical records. Medical records would be transferred as part of a sale by a sole practitioner or as part of the transfer of an unincorporated practice to a new owner.
Where possible, a long settlement period is recommended for business or asset sales involving the transfer of medical records. This will allow consent to be obtained from a patient (either express or inferred) through consent forms or communication of the transfer of records, either in the practice or provided to the patient.
Before and during any settlement period, vendors must ensure patients records are kept secure. Access to any medical records should only occur as required by the sale or transfer of the business and should be restricted to only those people involved in the sale who require access. Providing de-identified documents might be appropriate.10
When selling a practice, GPs should be aware medical records might need to be retained for insurance or other medico-legal purposes. It is important the sale agreement and patient consent permit this.
If the sale is of shares in an incorporated general practice, there is no transfer of personal information (it is retained within the company) and privacy concerns will not apply to the transfer itself.
If a practice closes due to a GP's death, the practice staff (or the executor in the case of a sole practitioner) should take reasonable steps to notify patients and organise the transfer of their medical records to another GP.
Health record legislation
There are additional requirements for the transfer or closure of a general practice under current health records legislation.
For example, legislation in Victoria and the ACT require practices to publish a notice in a local newspaper stating the practice is closing or being sold, detailing how the practice plans to deal with the medical records.
Legal advice should be obtained if required.