facebook

Representing the Physician: It Is Harder Than it Looks

Jamaal R. Jones is a Super Lawyer committed to representing the physician.

Mr. Jones recently attended a conference where Health Law attorneys from around Florida converged to discuss topics such as MACRA, HIPAA Audits, EMTALA, Medical Marijuana, Medicare and other Risk Contracts, and Structuring Medical Practices for Tax and Creditor Insulation.

If you would like to discuss any of these topics in greater detail contact us today!

What to Consider When Negotiation Physician Employment Agreements

Physicians employed by hospitals, group practices, or any other type of healthcare facility usually enter into the business relationship by signing a Physician Employment Agreement unless the physician is an independent contractor. At Jones Health Law, we instruct all of our physician clients to carefully review their Physician Employment Agreement prior to signing.

Many physicians believe that they can’t negotiate the contract. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Every section of the contract can be negotiated by your attorney. If you don’t approve of some of the terms contained therein you have to power to ask your prospective employer to change that provision so that it better suits you and your needs. Of course, the prospective employer may be unwilling to revise some of the terms of the contract, and at that point you have a very important decision to make. You have to decide whether these terms are deal breakers or not. Only you can decide whether you are going to take it or leave it.

There’s no secret that there’s a shortage of physicians and it’s even more difficult to find physicians adequately suited and licensed in certain specialties. Use that to your advantage when you enter the negotiation process. Younger physicians may have more difficulty with negotiating contracts but it is not impossible. You want to place yourself in the best situation possible even if it means walking away from a prospective employer.

Physicians must realize that while working for a specific healthcare facility may initially be a dream job it can turn into a nightmare later on. Terms of the contract can pose limitations on the physician for several years after their employment with that particular employer has concluded.

What to Look for When Negotiating Physician Employment Agreements

Physicians employed by hospitals, group practices, or any other type of healthcare facility usually enter into the business relationship by signing a Physician Employment Agreement unless the physician is an independent contractor. At Jones Health Law, we instruct all of our physician clients to carefully review their Physician Employment Agreement prior to signing.

 

Many physicians believe that they can’t negotiate the contract. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Every section of the contract can be negotiated by your attorney. If you don’t approve of some of the terms contained therein you have to power to ask your prospective employer to change that provision so that it better suits you and your needs. Of course, the prospective employer may be unwilling to revise some of the terms of the contract, and at that point you have a very important decision to make. You have to decide whether these terms are deal breakers or not. Only you can decide whether you are going to take it or leave it.

 

There’s no secret that there’s a shortage of physicians and it’s even more difficult to find physicians adequately suited and licensed in certain specialties. Use that to your advantage when you enter the negotiation process. Younger physicians may have more difficulty with negotiating contracts but it is not impossible. You want to place yourself in the best situation possible even if it means walking away from a prospective employer.

 

Physicians must realize that while working for a specific healthcare facility may initially be a dream job it can turn into a nightmare later on. Terms of the contract can pose limitations on the physician for several years after their employment with that particular employer has concluded.

 

Some physicians don’t bother to read the contract thoroughly if the financial incentives are very appealing. Yes, making $175,000 is a great salary, but here are a few things to consider that might not make that salary look so good after all:

 

  • Restrictive Period and Geographic Location: Physician Employment Agreements usually have a Covenant not to Compete clause that imposes limitations on certain actions that the physician can or cannot engage in. Many times the time and geographic restrictions are very lengthy and far-reaching. For example, a physician employment agreement may state that “You cannot solicit for current and past referral sources, or own, manage, operate, control or be employed by a medical practice or health care provider for a period of three (3) years within ten (10) miles of any of our office locations.” This becomes problematic if your employer has offices in every county in South Florida.

 

  • Transparency of Care: Many practices require that you follow the Practice Guidelines and Company Policies but don’t specifically identify any actions that can be taken against you or the procedure that follows if any of those guidelines and policies are violated.

 

  • Performance Evaluations: Negative performance evaluations may become a part of your employment record and may be used against you at subsequent PEER Review hearings, during litigation, or future contract negotiations. You want to determine who will be conducting the performance evaluations and whether that party will do so in a neutral and objective manner. This is very important because these evaluations can give rise to “for-cause” termination, which may negate your employer’s requirement to compensate you in accordance with the contract. Also, if you were to fail their performance evaluation you want to determine what its effect is and what recourse would be taken (i.e. mandatory education courses, termination, suspension, etc.)?

 

  • Conflicts, Confidentiality, and Nondisclosure: These paragraphs are usually drafted very broadly and in many cases they are too broad. For example, language in this section may preclude you from engaging in any type of business activity that could potentially interfere with the business of your employer. The employer may require that you obtain express written consent from them prior to engaging in any other type of business activity. This means that if your wife wants to open a dance studio and you want to be a co-owner you would first have to seek approval from your employer. Failure to do so might result in a breach of contract. Typically, the employer grants herself a lot of authority in this section and it will remain that way unless you negotiate a change.

 

  • Covenant not to Solicit Employees of Employer: For example, “You many not directly or indirectly orally or in writing solicit any Employee of Employer to work for another healthcare provider rendering the same or similar services to the services of the Employer.” This is one clause that causes a lot of physicians because they don’t realize that “stealing” an employee from a former employer may be actionable in court. Additionally, this clause as written is broad and means that you cannot place ads in any form of media while looking for employees of your practice if the employees of the employer could potentially see it. If you do so, and the employee is hired by your company you may have to pay the employer thousands of dollars for each violation. The reason for this is because an ad may be viewed as an indirect written solicitation even if the Employee wasn’t targeted specifically.

 

  • Effects of Termination: This is arguably the most costly section of any Physician Employment Agreement. I’ve seen agreements that state if a physician terminates the employment agreement prior to its natural expiration the physician will be responsible for paying to the employer six months of your base salary. In other words, if you resign from your employment and you are earning $150,000 base salary you would have to pay a whopping $75,000 to your employer.

 

  • Continuation of Contract: Many employers require advance notice that you don’t intend to extend the contact for another term period. Some employers require as much as six months written notice before the expiration of the agreement. Failure to do so may be actionable and they might seek damages. I advise my clients to reduce the requirement to three months notice at most because business opportunities may arise within that six month window.

 

  • Employer May Assign Agreement: Businesses are bought and sold all of the time and medical practices are no different. Many agreements state that the employment agreement will belong to the new owner and you are bound by the terms of the agreement during the remaining term period. I tell my physicians to negotiate this clause so that they have the option to terminate this employment agreement without triggering the Effect of Termination clause should the employer choose to assign its interest to a successor.

 

These are just a few of the problematic clauses that I typically encounter in Physician Employment Agreements but this is by no means an exhaustive list. The terms in Employment Agreements vary from one employer to the next. I strongly advise you to contact Jones Health Law so that an experienced healthcare attorney can review the contract and negotiate it on your behalf.

Implementing Policies and Procedures into your Medical Practice

As a child, my mother always stressed the importance of being neat and organized. She told me that I should be able to walk into my house in the dark and find anything that I need because I know exactly where it is. At the time, I didn’t know how those values would apply to not only my personal life but also my business life. With that being said, life gets in the way and there are days when my office or my house is in disarray. This reduces my productivity because I have to spend time searching for important documents at my office or my car keys at home.

I place a lot of emphasis on maintaining a neat and organized medical practice for all of my clients because it will make their life easier for numerous reasons. The best way to maintain a neat and organized medical practice is to implement policies and procedures that you and your employees must strictly follow. These policies and procedures can range from physical security of the facility, security of HIPAA protected information, employee time-keeping, janitorial services, medical substances and pharmaceutical drug internal audits, etc.

Everyone on the staff should be held accountable for the tasks that they perform or fail to perform. As the owner of the practice, you should periodically review the procedural tasks to make sure that everyone is performing their duties adequately and on-time. It only takes one missed log entry for a crisis to arise. This brings me to my next point, you should implement a policy where everyone on your staff must sign off on or use a unique identifier and password that only they have. This is important so that you can trace most of the activities that occur in your practice. Providers have to play “big brother” and watch over their practice because as you let things slide so will your staff and certain policies and protocols will be abandoned.

It is not unusual for a provider to contact me after a regulatory authority, such as the Florida Department of Health (“DOH”) or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (“CMS”) has contacted them about a potential violation within their practice (i.e. billing). Typically, these regulatory bodies make certain requests for documentation in their correspondence. I am often surprised by how unorganized the medical practice’s files are and the lack of adequate policies and procedures within the practice. As I mentioned earlier, I understand that life gets in the way, but being organized and having policies and procedures in place to maintain organization should be a priority. Lack of time will not be a valid excuse for the regulators. In fact, there are several state and federal record-keeping requirements that a medical practice must strictly adhere to or run the risk of receiving fines and penalties. Take one day or weekend and work alongside your staff to clean up those files and perform an audit of your inventory.

The following is a sample of some of the steps that I would take to ensure that my medical practice is neat and organized:

  • Create a formal policy and procedure manual that every employee must sign and adhere to.
  • Document everything and save it on-site as well as off-site on a cloud-based service and limit employee access to those documents.
  • Maintain employee files, including, but not limited to, emergency contacts, termination letters with reason for termination, professional and drivers licenses, periodic drug test results, personal and medical history, progress reports, professional and academic performance evaluations etc.

In the event that you have to self-report or if any state or federal regulatory authorities contacts your practice for a potential violation of a law or rule you should be as prepared as possible. Implement policies and procedures into your medical practice that will protect you and will ensure that your practice runs efficiently and smoothly. A healthcare attorney can assist you in creating a fully functioning policy and procedure manual specific to your practice.

My DEA Number was Stolen by an Employee and Used to Buy Controlled Substances

Most doctors have various licenses that provide them with unique identification numbers. If any of these identification numbers find their way into the wrong hands it can be detrimental to the healthcare provider’s practice, their patients, and the public. Doctors hire support staff to run their practice efficiently by perform tasks that they don’t have time to do or don’t have the training to perform. This employer-employee relationship requires a certain level of trust from both parties because a bad act by either party can have a negative impact on the other party’s license, privileges, or reimbursement for services. Some of the support staff working in a doctor’s office may have access to HIPAA-protected information and a doctor’s unique identification numbers, such as his NPI and DEA numbers. What should you do if one of your employees steals your DEA number and uses it to self-prescribe controlled substance through e-prescribing or traditional prescription pads? What if they use your DEA number to order controlled substances for the practice without your knowledge or consent? Doctors should also be concerned with their potential liability for the unauthorized use of their DEA number.

Keys to Successfully Operating a Multi-Disciplinary Medical Practice

Throughout Florida, a healthy number of licensed healthcare practitioners and healthcare entrepreneurs are joining or investing in multi-disciplinary practices for numerous reasons. The primary reason for their foray into this modern approach to the delivery of medicine is usually due to the rising costs of administering treatment. They are attracted to the idea of increasing revenue, minimizing administrative duties, and partnering with like-minded individuals that may grow their individual practice. However, there are several business and legal challenges that members of a multi-disciplinary practice must consider prior to participating in the practice.

My DEA Number Was Stolen by an Employee and Used to Self-Prescribe Controlled Substances

Most doctors have various licenses that provide them with unique identification numbers. If any of these identification numbers find their way into the wrong hands it can be detrimental to the healthcare provider’s practice, their patients, and the public. Doctors hire support staff to run their practice efficiently by perform tasks that they don’t have time to do or don’t have the training to perform. This employer-employee relationship requires a certain level of trust from both parties because a bad act by either party can have a negative impact on the other party’s license, privileges, or reimbursement for services. Some of the support staff working in a doctor’s office may have access to HIPAA-protected information and a doctor’s unique identification numbers, such as his NPI and DEA numbers. What should you do if one of your employees steals your DEA number and uses it to self-prescribe controlled substance through e-prescribing or traditional prescription pads? What if they use your DEA number to order controlled substances for the practice without your knowledge or consent? Doctors should also be concerned with their potential liability for the unauthorized use of their DEA number.

Reporting Requirement

According to Florida Statute §893.07(5)(b), if your DEA number has been stolen and used to divert controlled substances you must file a police report with the local sheriff of that county within 24 hours after discovery. A person who fails to report a theft or significant loss of a controlled substance commits a misdemeanor of the second degree. It is not required that you press charges against the perpetrator of the theft, but I always recommend that my clients do so for several reasons. First, it shows authorities that you were not complicit in the theft. Second, it becomes part of the employee’s record and prospective future employers will be able to see this information on their criminal history during background checks. Third, as punishment for the emotional despair you will endure, negative impact on your practice, and the cost to hire an attorney to represent you in this matter.

You must also notify the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) within one business day upon discovery of a theft or significant loss of controlled substances. “Upon discovery” means that a report should be filed once the doctor has made a good-faith effort to determine whether a theft has in fact occurred. To determine whether a loss is significant the DEA provided the following factors in 21 C.F.R. § 1301.74(c):

1) The actual quantity of controlled substances lost in relation to the type of business;
2) The specific controlled substances lost;
3) Whether the loss of the controlled substances can be associated with access to those controlled substances by specific individuals, or whether the loss can be attributed to unique activities that may take place involving the controlled substances;
4) A pattern of losses over a specific time period, whether the losses appear to be random, and the results of efforts taken to resolve the losses; and, if known,
5) Whether the specific controlled substances are likely candidates for diversion; and
6) Local trends and other indicators of the diversion potential of the missing controlled substance.

The six factors mentioned above are not exhaustive and should be taken into account with other factors where appropriate.

According to 21 C.F.R. § 1301.76(b), the DEA’s implementing regulations for the Controlled Substance Act, all DEA registrants must complete DEA Form 106 and submit it to the DEA electronically or by mail. Once submitted, the DEA will begin the investigatory process and contact you to obtain additional information.

Additionally, you should contact the board or association that grants you your license to practice (i.e. Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine) to see what reporting requirements they may have. For example, although I could not find a clearly defined rule requiring so, the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine (“FDOM”) strongly suggests that the doctor file a complaint with the Florida Department of Health (“DOH”) against the perpetrator of the crime so that they may conduct their own investigation into the matter. The complaint should be sent to the Consumer Services Section of the DOH. You will typically receive a response from the DOH within ten business days at which point in time they may schedule a phone call or an in person meeting as part of their ongoing investigation. This investigation may include interviewing parties in your practice about the perpetrator or the crime and facts and events that gave rise to the incident.

During all stages of the investigation, whether talking to the DEA, local police authorities, or the DOH you must be candid with the investigating authorities so that there isn’t any indication of impropriety on your part.

Steps To Prevent A Theft From Occurring Again

To limit the occurrence of future thefts or significant loss, providers should do the following:

  • Conduct employee background checks for all employees, including those employees with access to controlled substances. This background check should be performed in any local, state jurisdiction where the employee has worked and resided. Federal background checks should also be performed.
  • Schedule I and II drugs must be stored separately from other drugs in an approved safe. Schedule III and IV drugs must also be kept under lock and key but the security measures are more relaxed than their counterparts.
  • Utilize tracking software that records specific employee’s removal of controlled substances from locked cabinets together with an associated patient identifier. The software is designed to flag and alert the doctor of suspicious or unusual employee activity.
  • Providers should also conduct periodic internal audits to ensure that the inventory of controlled substances is accurate.
  • Providers may also want to consider a adopting a policy into their practice which requires employees to be periodically drug tested and suspicion-based drug testing. Drug testing should be performed prior to employment; the offer of employment should be conditional on a clean drug test.
  • Sparingly share you DEA number and e-prescribing log-in information only with trusted employees.
  • Make sure that your prescription pads are locked up in a secure area. Utilize watermarks on your prescription pads because it makes it more difficult to replicate.
  • Monitor remittance advice, claims and reimbursements to verify billed services match your income.
  • Observe and takes notes of erratic or unusual behavior by an employee (i.e. lying and mood swings) and physical abnormalities, such as “track marks”, excessive sweating, pale skin, red face with red eyes, etc.
  • Implement a training program to educate staff on controlled substance diversion.

 

Conclusion

If you are unable to determine whether a theft of controlled substances did in fact occur within one business day, you should err on the side of caution and file a report with the DEA and other appropriate authorities. It may also be necessary to notify the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services If you fail to timely report a theft or significant loss you may face penalties and fines or any other remedial actions that the authorities deem are necessary. If any patients were affected by the theft you must determine how to appropriately notify your patients. Make sure to gather any documents or evidence that can be useful for authorities during their investigation. Any theft of prescribing pads should be reported to the Board of Pharmacy.

****

This post was authored by Jamaal R. Jones, Esquire of Jones Health Law, P.A. for more information contact me at (305) 877-5054; email us at JRJ@JonesHealthLaw.com, or visit our website at www.JonesHealthLaw.com.

It should be noted that I am not your lawyer (unless you have presently retained my services through a retainer agreement). This post is not intended as legal advice, it is purely educational and informational, and no attorney-client relationship shall result after reading it. Please consult your own attorney for legal advice. If you do not have one and would like to retain my legal services please contact me using the information listed above.

All of the information and references made to laws, regulations, and advisory opinions were accurate based on the law as it existed at this time, but laws are constantly evolving. Please contact me to be sure that the law which will govern your business is current. Thank you.

 

Join Us for a LIVE Masterclass


IV Hydration Masterclass: Legal Requirements of Starting an IV Hydration Business

This will close in 35 seconds