4 tips for helping patients cope when physicians move or retire

When doctors change practices, move or retire, helping patients through the transition can present a major emotional challenge on both sides of the doctor-patient relationship, writes Rodger D. MacArthur, M.D., in The AIDS Reader.

The relationship built between patients with chronic illness and their physicians can be strong and positive, especially in the field of HIV care, where outcomes have changed so drastically over the past 25 years, according to MacArthur. When he decided to move his practice to a new state, he realized his patients would need more than a letter in the mail to deal with finding a new doctor and coming to terms with the emotional weight of changing or ending their ongoing doctor-patient relationship.

Delivering bad news to patients can be one of the most difficult tasks doctors face in any event, and previous reporting by FiercePracticeManagement has demonstrated the positive effect solid doctor-patient relationships can have both on patient outcomes and increased patient loyalty. While doctors aren’t strangers to giving patients bad news, MacArthur has some tips to make things easier for everyone in this particular difficult situation:

  • Plan ahead and, if possible, tell patients about your plans in person.
  • Work with your employer and colleagues to ensure a smooth transition for your patients, since they will likely be the ones caring for your patients after you leave.
  • Plan to keep open lines of communications with your patients throughout the process, including giving them an opportunity to stay in appropriate contact even after you move or retire, whether directly or through your new practice.
  • Since the situation is a personal one as well as a professional one, don’t be afraid to demonstrate and share emotions with patients. This is one of the situations where MacArthur says it’s a good idea to “break down the wall” between healthcare providers and patients.

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