COMMENTARY

Your Malpractice Advisor: When Doctors 'Steal' Patients

Lee J. Johnson, Esq.

Disclosures

April 19, 2012

In This Article

Introduction

John Smith, MD, an Iowa-based primary care physician, had a modest-sized but adequate patient load. A meeting with his bookkeeper, however, made him realize that his patient load had dwindled.

When he followed up with his patients, a few awkwardly revealed that they had switched to other primary care providers following hospitalization. Others had been referred to specialists and had switched to those specialists, not only for specialty treatment but for general treatment as well.

Dr. Smith's predicament is becoming increasingly common with the rise of stronger competition in regions where the number of physicians in a given specialty outweighs the number of patients who require that specialty. Some physicians end up "stealing patients" from their colleagues.

Not all "thefts" are intentional or nefarious. Some are quite innocent and take place along a continuum of normal physician practices. But unless you're savvy to these issues, you may find yourself either the thief or the victim of "patient-snatching." Here are some tips to protect you from both scenarios.

Second Opinions and Consultations

If You Are the Referring Physician

Whether you are a primary care physician or a specialist, it is frequently necessary to refer patients to other specialists. It is advisable for you to develop relationships with these specialists and protocols about how these referrals are handled.

Establish some guidelines with the specialist regarding your expectations. How long do you want this patient followed? What information should be conveyed to the patient through the specialist consultant, and what would you like to address yourself? A clear and respectful working relationship makes it less likely that your colleague will treat you unfairly.

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