When a physician receives a complaint, it can be a nerve-wracking experience. Being accused of wrongdoing is a punch to the gut; it is the exact opposite of the medical care physicians look to provide.
However, even if there is no foundation for the allegation, the medical board may still take any complaint seriously, and even render a verdict that results in disciplinary action or loss of a physician’s license. Because of the severity of these decisions, it is always best for any physician facing a medical board complaint to work with a trusted Pennsylvania physician attorney to help navigate the complex administrative process.
Board complaints are not the same as a medical malpractice lawsuit. Whereas medical malpractice lawsuits can be complicated and costly, board complaints can disrupt a physician’s ability to practice medicine and earn a living. Because patients have little to no cost to file a board complaint, it is often done more frequently than a medical malpractice lawsuit, but that does not mean it is any less severe.
A board complaint can result in many disciplinary actions, including the following:
- Suspension of medical license
- Limitations placed on medical license
- Medical license revocation
- Damage to reputation
It is that last point can be the most destructive for any physician who faces a board complaint. Damage to a medical professional’s reputation can spell the end of their career, similar to the board revoking their medical license altogether. Therefore, it is vital that any physician who faces a board complaint take the process seriously or risk irreparable harm to their livelihood.
Medical Board Complaint Process
The complaint process may vary slightly depending on the medical professional who receives the complaint and the type of patient filing the complaint. In Pennsylvania, the Department of State’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) largely governs the medical board complaint process. This governing body provides administrative guidance and support to the State Board of Medicine, which oversees the complaint process.
An administrative complaint process can be as long as a medical malpractice lawsuit. It can take a physician away from their medical duties and may require the medical professional seek legal counsel and support.
The time it takes to resolve a case and the end result may depend on the steps below and how many are required to settle the issue. It can also depend on the legal representation the physician chooses.
- Determination of jurisdiction. For a physician to receive a complaint, the patient must have received care by the particular medical professional in Pennsylvania.
- Investigations begin. The board begins its investigation of the facts alleged by the patient. If the board believes the patient who filed the complaint or other patients may be at risk, they may temporarily suspend the medical professional out of an abundance of caution. This is where the process can begin to have a negative impact on the physician’s reputation, even if the complaint is found to be without merit later in the process.
- Review of evidence by the medical board. After the medical board collects relevant evidence and speaks with interested witnesses, the medical board reviews the evidence to determine whether to proceed to the next steps.
- Medical review. If the board decides to proceed with the process, they will review the patient’s medical care to see if it has been impacted as a result of their complaint. Other medical professionals may be asked to testify before the board to review the standard of care provided.
- Medical board ruling. If the board is able to do so, they will render a ruling at this stage. Usually, when the board rules at this stage, they provide sanctions on the medical professional but do not generally revoke their license. This does not mean the physician gets off without damage, however, as even a formal slap on the wrist can be a detrimental hit to their reputation.
- If the board does not render a ruling in the previous step, the complaint process continues to a hearing. This hearing is an informal process that provides an opportunity for the physician and patient to state their cases. The board may render a decision here, but if not, the process continues to a final step.
- A full hearing. This final step is more like a trial in which there is a presentation of evidence and testimony provided by witnesses. The medical board will then make a final ruling.
It is important to note that the board’s final ruling, no matter which stage it comes from, becomes public record and part of the physician’s permanent record. Both of these records are items that a patient can view. Even minor disciplinary actions could cause a patient to go elsewhere for medical assistance, resulting in a downturn in the physician’s practice.
Why Patients File Medical Board Complaints
Patients can file medical complaints for any reason. It is up to the board as to whether the complaints have any merit and should proceed through the steps outlined above. Some common causes of complaints include the following:
- A physician’s failure to diagnose a medical condition
- Prescribing incorrect medication
- Violation of physician-patient confidentiality
- Failure to follow basic medical standards
- Failure to provide adequate post-surgery care
- Failure to treat a patient in an emergency
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol
How Physicians can Protect Themselves
If a physician finds themselves in the position of defending against a medical board complaint by a patient, they should speak with a trusted medical defense lawyer as soon as possible. Beyond that, however, a physician can take certain steps to help protect their reputation and their medical license:
- Strictly follow and adhere to all hospital or medical facility procedures and rules.
- Keep patient medical records according to standards.
- Make sure to keep detailed records of all prescriptions, especially for opioids, which can be a common subject of regulation and investigation.
- Do not treat family or staff.
- Refrain from posting on social media.
Being the subject of a medical board complaint can be an overwhelmingly stressful process. Especially when a physician does not have a legal representative guiding them through the process, they risk making mistakes or ignoring the process, which could cause career-ending disciplinary problems.
What a Physician Defense Attorney Does
When a physician faces a board complaint, they do not have to face the issue alone. Their legal counsel can help protect their license and their livelihood by responding to complaints on their behalf and ensuring that all proper and relevant documentation is provided to the board for review, in hopes of speeding up the process and getting a successful outcome.
A skilled physician defense attorney can provide help by:
- Guiding the physician through the complex and time-consuming administrative process.
- Ensure response deadlines are met.
- Ensure that all evidence, documentation, and relevant witness testimony are provided to the board in a timely and complete manner.
- Negotiate with the board to help the physician receive a lesser amount of disciplinary action.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect Your Medical License
Many physicians find themselves in a precarious position, facing medical board complaints. Although this happens frequently, it is still disconcerting when it happens to you, no matter how many times you have faced a complaint. This is just the beginning of a long, arduous administrative process that could result in your losing your license or facing other disciplinary action. By helping you protect your license and reduce any disciplinary actions that come your way, representing you at hearings and negotiating with the board, an experienced physician lawyer can be invaluable. The Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. stand ready to help you. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout contact us online Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.