I’m visiting my Dad this week, and he was a bit concerned that he was going to have to find a new doctor. He got a letter informing him that his doctor’s office was closing. It seemed odd, especially since the letter came not from his doctor, but from the out-of-town hospital that employed the three physicians at the office. Further it suggested that Dad call another office in town that was also owned by the same hospital suggesting that the patients of all three physicians at his office make appointments with the one doctor and the one ARNP at their other office. Offering two providers already seeing patients as a viable option to assume care of the patients of three busy primary care doctors seemed downright weird.
The issue was more clear after Dad and I stopped by his doctor’s office this afternoon. He was told that the three doctors in the office were moving to another office in town. No details were offered, but the receptionist we med told Dad that for his physician to be able to take his medical records to the new office he needed to sign a release-of-information form to allow his medical records to be transferred from his current doctor to his current doctor in another space. Dad and I looked at each other quizzically, and on leaving the office Dad in his typical quiet understated way told me he thought that the hospital group was pretty shady trying to get patients happy with their doctor to change physicians by implying that their doctor was no longer available. I totally agree. We have no idea what prompted the move. Maybe the hospital system decided the office was not profitable. Maybe the physicians quit one hospital system’s employment for a better offer from a competing system. Maybe the physicians disliked their employment situation and decided to leave for private practice. I really don’t think it matters.
The letter was an overt and intentional ploy to deceive patients into changing physicians in order to keep them as customers. Not mentioning that their doctor was going to continue in practice in the same city was clearly not just an oversight.
As an older adult finding a new physician, establishing rapport, and making the one or more extra office visits to allow the new physician to become acquainted with your health status is not a small undertaking. The risks of mistakes of omission or commission associated with this change makes switching primary care physicians without a good reason generally a poor choice. Sometimes physicians move, retire, or they may not be meeting your expectations or needs. In those cases a change of doctor is appropriate and often inescapable. In this case, where a hospital group tries to trick patients into changing physicians for business reasons, the most charitable thing I can think to say is that it is a ruthlessly aggressive business practice.
What’s the lesson for readers? If your physician is in the employ of a hospital group and you get a letter from the employer that their practice is closing, don’t just assume that your doctor is leaving town or retiring. Contact your doctor’s office to find out what is really happening. You may not need a new doctor after all. This letter failed the sniff test, and I’m glad Dad didn’t just passively do as he was asked by the hospital involved and change doctors.