It is no question that record keeping and maintaining the confidentiality of records are important steps to running an ethical psychology practice. In fact, the American Psychological Association (APA) ethics code requires such diligence. While you may have a method to ensure the safe-keeping of your confidential records, have you made arrangements for the care of your patient records in the event of your unexpected inability to continue to practice? Have you made arrangements for how your patients will be notified and who their care will be transferred to? Did you know that the APA ethics code requires that you have a system in place to ensure this? According to APA provisions 3.12 and 4.01, you are ethically required to make advance plans not only for the transfer of confidential records, but also for the continued treatment services of your patients. In addition, your licensing State’s law may require even stricter and greater obligations. For instance, in addition to the above, New Jersey law further requires monthly local newspaper publications for three months after the psychologist’s death, specifiying an established procedure for record retrieval . Failing to abide by these ethical and legal obligations may expose your estate to a malpractice lawsuit.
In short, a Psychology practice needs a Professional Will to provide specifications and arrangements in advance of an unexpected event. This document can satisfy your ethical obligation under the APA guidelines as well as provide an invaluable tool to safeguard your practice in the event of your death or disability.
A Professional Will makes specific provisions for the maintenance, destruction, and continued confidentiality of patient records. In addition, a Personal Representative is named to transition the practice following the psychologist’s death. The Will should set forth a plan with specific instructions about patient referrals, contacting current patients, retaining, securing and providing access to medical records, and maintaining confidentiality. In addition, your State’s law requirements pertaining to professional practice should be incorporated into your Professional Will.