Even after many years of working with physicians, I am still surprised by the poor record-keeping habits of private practices. I’m not talking about medical record documentation — that’s a whole other issue. What I’m talking about is business records — and more particularly legal agreements. When a physician client contacts me with a problem, very often it involves some contractual relationship such as a managed contract, employment agreement, service agreement or lease. Of course, my first request is that they send me a copy of the signed agreement underlying the relationship. Amazingly, more often than not I am told that they don’t know where the signed agreement is or they send me an unsigned draft or an expired agreement.
I have written previously on this blog that legal contracts serve a number of very important purposes. Of course, without a signed agreement in place, any "contract dispute" will by default be a he said/she said battle — and the outcome is usually anyone’s guess. Moreover, how can you know if you or the other party is meeting your or their obligations under an agreement if you don’t have a copy of the agreement for reference? Finally, a number of healthcare laws (think Stark) require that certain agreements be in writing, signed by the parties and in effect (i.e., not expired). If you don’t know where your agreements are, you probably don’t know if they are still in effect.
If the above description applies to your practice, now’s a great time to begin collecting your agreements and reviewing them to be sure they are compliant and in effect. Put them in a safe place and keep a list of expiration dates handy so that you address renewals on a timely basis. If you can’t find agreements (e.g., managed care contracts), consider contacting the other party and asking them to send you another copy. If they can’t find one either, it’s a good idea to sign a new one. Also, one of the important functions your attorney can do for you is keep legal documents either in your minute book or your client file so that if you lose your copy, another copy is just a phone call away. Of course, your attorney’s file will only be complete if you remember to send your signed contracts to him or her!