What to Do with Patient Records When Selling a Practice

Guidelines for Practice Success | Managing Professional Risks | Transitions and Other Changes

Dentists preparing to sell a practice have three primary options regarding how to handle the transfer of patient records:

  • The dentist may keep the original patient records and provide the buyer with copies of all patient charts and radiographs.
    • This method provides the selling dentist with the best protection in the event of a future malpractice claim since he or she would have ownership of the original records.
    • The cost of duplicating those records is typically the responsibility of the dentist who is selling the practice.
  • The dentist may opt to give the buyer all of the original records and make copies for his/her personal records.
    • Be aware that this method may not give the selling dentist the same liability protection in the event that a malpractice claim is filed in the future.
  • The selling dentist could ensure that the sales contract provides language that would obligate the buyer to allow the seller to review and copy patient charts, records and radiographs for defense of malpractice litigation or to respond inquiries from licensing or regulatory authorities.

Most practice sales agreements typically require the buyer to maintain these records for a certain period of time after the sale. The contract can also include language that would require the buyer to pay the seller a certain amount in damages if the records are not maintained as detailed in the agreement. One potential disadvantage of this method is that it’s possible that the buyer could inadvertently destroy or lose records or make access difficult.

Dentists looking to sell their practices should make sure that the contract includes language that requires the purchaser of the practice to retain existing patient records for at least 10 years; this could be helpful in the event that you should need them for any judicial actions.

Original documents are always a stronger and more incontrovertible form of evidence than copies. Take steps to ensure that you have access to original patient charts and radiographs, in all formats, after selling the practice so you have greater protection if there are questions regarding your diagnosis and treatment or if a professional liability claim is filed.

Before making this change:

  • Take a comprehensive and objective look at the practice’s operations and financials.
  • Consult an attorney early in the process to ensure your assets are protected and that you’re in compliance with any relevant state and federal laws.
  • Contact your professional liability company to see if they have recommendations or suggestions to help guide you through the process.
  • Be mindful of the potential risks.
  • Develop actionable plans to eliminate, or at least lessen, any challenges you could encounter along the way.