I have a very good friend who has been offered numerous jobs in various states as of late. He is an accomplished physician. A smarty pants. The medical community is lucky to have him.
Although we have not discussed it, I imagine that with each of these offers (hospital affiliated physician jobs) he has been presented with draft employment contracts.
Typically, physician contracts contain information on the following duties, agreements, etc:
- term of contract (if there is a term, how many years)
- bonus structure
- billing practices
- malpractice insurance / tail coverage / limits
- reasons employee can be fired
- reasons employee can quit
- Notice requirements for leaving
- language regarding the confidential nature of patient records
- post employment restrictive covenant
Not all doctors have to sign non-compete agreements, but more are being asked to do so.
Yet despite a modern trend toward expanding patient choice – health care, doctor, hospital, and insurance – there is a concern that if a physician leaves a practice group, but stays in the area, the patients will follow the doctor.
I can say as a consumer of health care, there are some physicians my family would follow across the state. Specialists who took the time to get to know our family, our needs, and listen to our concerns.
So is it fair, to those of us who need health care, that our doctors change in employment could deny access to the care and treatment we believe our family needs? Is health care not different than most professions?
Perhaps I understand (for the sake of argument) that a carpet salesman can’t take customer lists and start a new business in breach of a contract, but aren’t practioners of the healing arts in a different class? Shouldn’t public policy prohibit these kind of contracts from being enforceable?
What if the doctor is fired, how can the hospital then argue he or she is prohibited from working in the area?
These are the issues that physicians are now faced with. Not only must they decide whether signing these contracts is right for them personally and professionally, but whether its a good idea for their patients.
Sadly, Virginia law has yet to buy into the argument that doctors are different from any other field or profession and so they are often sued when they leave and brake their contracts. Is that right? Does the justice system have a place for public policy?
Many states have laws that allow non-competes for some industries but not physicians. Should our commonwealth follow the example of others?
I would argue yes, but I also would argue that non-competes harm our economy rather than protect businesses.
If this is something you feel strongly about, you should contact your delegate in Richmond. Or your doctor. Or your local hospital. And demand better.
And if you are a physician, like my friend, wondering whether you should sign a new contract, we would be honored to review it for you and evaluate your options, etc.