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Preparing Your Practice for Physician Retirement

Posted in May 2017

In uncertain economic times, planning for the future is critical to maintaining a business, and a medical practice is no different. Key physicians may leave at any time for many reasons, and your group will need to be prepared to fill the remaining gaps. How will you redistribute patients? How will you communicate changes in care to patients? What will your referral base look like after the departure of a key physician? These are just some of the questions that can arise after a physician leaves and while you can’t always be prepared for every departure you can certainly take steps to help your practice prepare for physicians retiring.

The Physicians Foundation conducted lengthy research and found 39% of the physicians surveyed say they are stepping up their retirement plans due to changes in the healthcare system. These same physicians are expected to retire around age 60, while some will actually retire closer to age 69, according to a systematic review of 65 studies published on Nov. 15th, 2016.

Being privy to this information, the probability that a partner could be retiring from your practice in the foreseeable future is incredibly high. Here are some ways you can make this transition period easier on yourself and your practice.

 

Plan Early for a Smooth Transition

A practice has fewer options at the “last minute,” and it will sneak up on you faster than you suspect. Having a good transition plan is an indication of a well-run practice and sends the right message to patients and staff. Patients will typically stay longer with a group, but if they can’t get an appointment with those who remain or don’t have a good opportunity to build rapport with their new doctor, they will leave. Advanced planning ensures that all stakeholders (you, your partners and the incoming replacement physician) are all on the same page. The key to a good plan is to have conversations with physicians that are nearing retirement age to make sure you understand their timelines and intentions. This will allow you to start your search for a new physician at the appropriate time. Remember, finding the right physician to fit your practice can take some time.  For primary care, start your search at least two years before you are going to need your new physician. Waiting until later to start your search can result in hiring someone who isn’t a good fit for the practice, which could lead to turnover in staff or loss of patients.

 

Transitioning in a New Physician as the Retiring Physician Departs

As physicians get close to the end of their career, they tend to reduce their patient volume. The retiring physician often begins to decrease office time as part of a planned transition. Assuming that there is a new physician who has joined the practice in replacement of the one retiring, this transition can be accommodated relatively smoothly. 

As the retiring physician reduces his or her time at the facility, the new physician can increase office time, allowing staff and patients to get to know the new physician as the retiring physician slowly cuts back. This gradual transition also allows the new provider to get used to the practice, the staff and their new surroundings, and to build his or her own patient base over time, which generally results in the smoothest possible transition.

 

Informing the Patients 

Beyond properly notifying patients of a departing physician, the practice will need to establish continuity of care so the patients don’t feel abandoned. The reality is that patients can become rattled when they learn that they will need to “start over” with an unfamiliar physician.

The departing physician and/or practice should send a letter notifying patients of the change and offer to provide continuing care or transfer records to another provider. The key is to help patients understand why the transition is happening, how it will impact their care and reassure them they are in the best hands possible. 

Change is inevitable, but being prepared for retirements will make the entire process much easier on you and your staff; which in turn, will put your practice in a better position to serve your patients.