Most physician employment agreements prohibit them from soliciting patients if they leave the practice. Although similar, this obligation is separate from any covenant of non-competition. A non-solicitation provision typically prohibits a physician from trying to influence the patients he treated at his former practice to follow up to his new practice location. From a business standpoint, this covenant can be very important to both parties if a physician is relocating to a practice that is in a close enough geographic area that patients would have no difficulty changing to the new location.
A restriction on patient solicitation may be in the best interest of a physician’s former practice, it may not be in the best interest of a patient. The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners have recognized the potential harm and have adopted rules that require a patient be notified when his physician leaves the practice whether or not the departing physician is contractually obligated not to contact his former patients. According to Tennessee Rule 0080-2-.15 the responsibility of notifying the patients of a physician who leaves a group practice should be governed by the physician’s employment agreement and any patient who has seen the departing physician for more than 2 office visits in the preceding 18 months must be notified.
Unless the employment agreement provides otherwise, the patients shall be notified of the physician’s new address and offered the opportunity to have their medical records forwarded to the departing physicians. Often a physician’s employment agreement will be silent on whose responsibility it is to notify patients. Whether or not the employment agreement includes a nonsolicitation provision, it is clear that the rules intend for the patient to be notified of his physician’s departure. If the employment agreement is silent on the responsibility of notification but includes a restriction on solicitation, arguable the practice could notify the patient that a physician has left but not incl ude his new practice information. If the practice does not notify the patient of their doctor’s departure, the physician may have an obligation to do so.
It is best for both the practice and the employed physician to address the notification of patients in the employment agreement and avoid any confusion on what is required and what is not when a physician leaves.