Taking care of business
Don't consider selling your practice without legal representation, particularly on contractual matters including the transfer of assets and goodwill. If you are winding up your practice, seek legal and financial advice about aspects such as dissolving a partnership and submitting your final accounts.
The GDC expects you to inform patients in writing before ending a professional relationship. You should arrange to complete current courses of treatment, if this is feasible, and explain any provisions that have been made for patients' continuing care - for example, if another dentist will be taking over the practice or the patient's treatment.
Whether a practice is closing, continuing or being sold, it is vitally important that clinical records, including radiographs, photographs and study casts are retained. Whether you are in NHS or private practice, we advise you to follow the NHS Code of Practice on Records Management which states that community dental records should be retained for a minimum of 11 years for adults. Children's records should be kept for 11 years after the last entry or until the patient reaches 25 years - whichever is longer.
We recommend checking records to ensure they are no longer needed for dento-legal purposes before disposing of any that exceed the timescales set out above. For example, if the patient previously made a complaint, it may be advisable to keep the records indefinitely, even if that complaint was apparently satisfactorily resolved at the time. Claims for clinical negligence can arise many years after the incident or complaint and it may be difficult to defend an allegation successfully without the records.
If the records are being transferred to new owners of a practice, ensure your sale agreement incorporates a clause about record retention
To comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, archived records should be:
- stored securely
- protected against damage
- accessible, whether you use a commercial facility or a locked cabinet.
If the records are being transferred to new owners of a practice, ensure your sale agreement incorporates a clause about record retention and allows you reasonable access to your records in the event of a claim or complaint.
When the time comes to dispose of the records, this should be done in a way that protects patient confidentiality, e.g. shredding or incineration of paper records. We recommend that you talk to an IT professional about permanently destroying electronic records.