“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”

This post was originally published on 1/31/2013

“A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.” Samuel Goldwyn

What about the contracts we have with patients? As physicians, we trust that our patients will follow the implicit contract agreed to when they schedule an appointment with us. They will reveal their history, allow us to poke, prod and test, and listen to our recommendations. Is it any wonder we as physicians have the same trust in our relationships with others?

But do not trust.

Did you read the rules/contract/agreement? We are surprised when we are told, “You are suspended/fired/dismissed…” We retort, “But wait. That was not what I expected.” Did you read the contract?

We are pleased after interviews, and tours and courting a new employer, that the salary and benefits are agreeable. Beware the next step.

There are armies of lawyers out there writing contracts and rules that are not favorable for physicians. You might think, ‘It’s the contract/rules/agreement, and all the other docs here signed it. I just want to take care of my patients.’ Or maybe, ’The Medical Executive Committee signed off on the rules, I don’t need to read them.”

You do if you are joining the medical staff. And if the hospital/system/employer says, “We’re changing our…” be sure you are involved in the change creation or have someone you trust there.

Did you realize you just signed an agreement that says if you resign, you MUST resign from the medical staff of the hospital AND practice more than 25 miles away from any entity owned or run by the system? And the same is true if you are fired. And that you can be fired for no reason whatsoever. You are an at will employee. No cause needed. It‘s in your contract.

Not employed? Did you realize that the medical staff rules of some hospitals deny you due process if they suspend your privileges for less than 30 days? So they can be wrong, and you can be right, but you will be suspended with no opportunity to appeal. Imagine 30 days of no hospital privileges. If you’re a surgeon or other admitting specialty, it could ruin your practice.

It’s easy to say, “I’ll just move, there are plenty of jobs.” But what about 10 years from now, when you have children happily enrolled in the local school, and you’ve settled comfortably into your dream house? How will you feel then?

Read your contracts because they are worth much more than the paper they are written on. They will be enforceable for the term of your employment/staff membership. If you signed it, it’s legal. If you agreed to work there, it’s legal. Not every system has such clauses, but beware of those that do.

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