Can I Contact My Previous Patients After Starting in a New Practice?

Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD

Disclosures

September 27, 2001

Question

I am wondering about the most ethical way to go about informing patients of my new place of employment. Legally speaking, I have no noncompete agreement, and do not feel there is any legal recourse for my informing former patients of my new place of employment. However, I currently only have access to telephone numbers (provided by the patients) and not addresses. Would it be reasonable to call patients directly and inform them of my new place of employment, or should I call and ask them for their address so that I may send them an update? My new employer and I are already planning on running advertisements in the local newspapers and sending announcements to the referring physician offices. However, I would like to inform the patients who requested I call them, directly.

Angela Bono Reed, MS, CPNP

Response from Carolyn Buppert, NP, JD

It was appropriate to tell your patients that you were leaving the practice. If a patient offered you his address or telephone number for the purpose of getting an update on your whereabouts, it was appropriate to write down the information and use it. You are correct that you cannot be sued for providing patients with your new location and telephone number. Neither is it unethical to provide this information. You may communicate by telephone, or you may call patients and ask for their address so that you can write a letter.

Before hiring a nurse practitioner or physician, employers often ask the prospective employee to make 3 promises as part of an employment agreement: not to use or disclose patient lists, not to solicit patients, and not to compete with the employer upon termination of employment. You state that you have not made any of these types of agreements, but you are an NP who must honor promises made.

While you are not planning to use your former employer's patient lists, if you had accessed a list of patient names and addresses while at the practice, and planned to use such lists for mass mailings, it is possible that your former employer could claim that the list was a "trade secret," which has some protections under common law. And, under the new Federal privacy regulations which go into effect in April 2003, healthcare providers need patients' written authorization before using their confidential information, including addresses and telephone numbers, for marketing.

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