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Who Owns a Patients’ Medical Records When a Physician Leaves a Practice?

business lawyer for medical personnel

Physicians have an ethical and professional duty to manage medical records properly. To start, the HIPAA Privacy Rule requires doctors, health care providers, and other parties to protect the confidentiality of sensitive patient medical records. When a doctor moves on from a practice group, it is crucial that all patient medical records are handled in an appropriate manner.

This raises an important question: How should patient medical records be handled when a physician leaves a group medical practice?  The Medical Board of California and the American Medical Association (AMA) provide some important guidance. In this article, our Fremont business lawyer explains the key things to know about who owns a patient’s medical records in California.

Background Ownership of Medical Records in California

Medical record ownership varies by state. In California, medical records belong to a hospital or a doctor. With this ownership comes certain ethical and professional obligations to patients. Patients have the right to access their medical records in certain circumstances. Under California Health & Safety Code 123100, patients have a general right to access their medical records and/or summaries. Further, the AMA Code of Ethics 1.1.3(f) states that patients should have the right “to obtain copies or summaries of their medical records.” To comply with statutory and regulatory obligations, group practices must handle medical records properly.

A Note on Professional Courtesy: California law does not require group practice to transfer records between providers. However, the Medical Board of California considers this a “professional courtesy.” The possible cost of copy and/or clerical fees depend on the specific situation.

Medical Board of California: Patient Records When a Doctor Leaves a Practice

The California Medical Board advises practitioners that patients should be notified regarding certain fundamental changes to the structure of a group medical practice. When a doctor leaves a medical practice in California, their patients should be notified and given a chance to make provisions for their medical records.

The AMA has also issued ethical guidance on this matter. Under AMA Code of Ethics Opinion 7.03, patients should be notified when their doctor is leaving a practice group. Further, they should be given the chance to have their medical records retained or forwarded to the doctor’s new practice group based on their preferences.

Medical Practice Agreements Should Address Patient Medical Records

Medical records should be addressed in agreements between doctors. You are always better off discussing and handling this matter at the beginning of a commercial relationship rather than the end of a commercial relationship. Any contracts that your medical practice relies on should have provisions for who owns patient medical records when a doctor leaves the practice. Agreements should include clear instructions for patient notification, including who is responsible for:

  • Sending out notices to patients
  • Bearing the cost of sending out notices to patients

Schedule a Confidential Consultation with a California Business Lawyer

Lynnette Ariathurai is a business lawyer with extensive experience working with doctors and other medical professionals. Contact us today to set up a confidential initial consultation. From our Fremont law office, we work with medical practices throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

health care providers, medical practice law, medical record ownership, Medical records law

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