Medical Specialties & Physician Non-Compete Agreements

Fort Lauderdale, Florida non-compete and trade secrets attorney Jonathan Pollard discusses physician non-compete agreements and medical specialties.  In many instances, the enforceability of a doctor’s non-compete agreement under Florida law will hinge on the specific nature of the medical practice at issue and the nature of the patient relationships at issue.

In many standard medical practices (e.g. a family practice or a general practice), there are long-lasting patient relationships.  Patients will often remain with a specific doctor for years– sometimes decades.  Often, a doctor becomes a family’s physician, and treats both spouses and all of their children.  In this situation, there are substantial, long-lasting doctor-patient relationships.  But in many specialty practices, there often are no such relationships.  For instance, take neonatology.  Neonatology is a sub-specialty of pediatrics.  Neonatologists work in hospitals where they treat newborns.  Once the child is released from the hospital, any relationship ends.  The same can be said for many orthopedic surgeons.  For instance, a doctor who specializes in knee surgery is unlikely to have the sort of long-standing patient relationships found in a general practice.  A patient may tear an ACL and require ACL replacement.  The orthopedic surgeon performs the surgery, does a follow-up visit or two, and that is effectively the end of the relationship. This is significant for a number of reasons.

When evaluating a physician non-compete agreement, or any non-compete agreement, under Florida law, there must be a legitimate business interest to support enforcement of that agreement.  In physician non-compete cases, that legitimate business interest usually takes the form of patient relationships.  In the standard doctor non-compete case, a doctor leaves a practice where he spent several years and either joins a rival practice or starts his own practice in the same geographic location.  Patients then leave the first practice and follow the doctor to his new practice.  The first practice sues alleging that the doctor has breached his non-compete agreement and alleging that enforcement of the non-compete agreement is necessary to protect the practice’s patients.

But in the case of medical specialties, it is much different.  The same sort of patient relationships simply are not at issue.  Instead, many Florida physician non-compete cases involving medical specialties center on referral relationships.  Recall the hypothetical regarding an orthopedic surgeon:  The knee specialist does not have the standard, long-term patient relationships that a family doctor has.  Instead, the knee specialist likely has relationships with other doctors who refer him patients.  So in cases involving medical specialists, referral relationships are often at the center of the dispute.

Medical Specialties & Physician Non-Compete Agreements Attorney Florida

Jonathan Pollard is a competition lawyer based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He focuses his practice on defending non-compete and trade secret claims. Jonathan routinely represents doctors, corporate executives and other high level employees who are switching companies, or, who have started their own ventures. Beyond litigation, Jonathan advises employees, companies and business owners regarding restrictive covenant issues in connection with employment contracts, separation agreements, hiring decisions, and the purchase or sale of business interests. Jonathan has been interviewed about non-compete issues by reporters from INC Magazine, the BBC and The Tampa Bay Times. He is licensed in all Florida federal and state courts and routinely represents clients in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Fort Myers, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville.  His office can be reached at 954-332-2380.