As a practicing physician, facing disciplinary action or the possibility of losing your medical license can have very serious consequences, including damage to your reputation and your personal finances, as well as the inability to treat patients or continue practicing medicine. Depending on the specific details of the case and the severity of the charges, you could lose your license permanently, which means you will be prohibited from practicing medicine. Too often, however, physicians do not take these charges as seriously as they should. They believe that the charges will amount to a slap on the wrist and that there will be no significant professional, financial, or personal consequences. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. If you are facing disciplinary action, you are urged to contact an experienced and knowledgeable physician lawyer at your earliest convenience.
What Are the Top Disciplinary Actions Taken against Physicians?
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), which represents 70 medical boards across the country, including all 50 states, published data about the disciplinary actions taken against physicians in 2017. The improvements in technology over the past 10 years have made it easier for state medical boards to identify behavior that would require disciplinary action. This may explain the jump in disciplinary actions taken over the past decade, compared with previous decades. However, it should be noted that there were 8,813 actions taken by state boards in 2017 alone. The following are the top disciplinary actions taken by the FSMB in 2017:
- License revocation: This is the most severe type of disciplinary action that a medical board will pursue against a physician for unprofessional, incompetent, or improper conduct. If a physician’s license is revoked, they may no longer practice medicine in the state or territory in which they currently practice. In 2017, there were 264 cases of disciplinary action for license revocation pursued by state medical boards.
- License surrendered: If a physician chooses to surrender their license during a disciplinary investigation, they must write a letter stating their intention and file it with their state board. To renew, reinstate, or restore their medical license, the physician must apply for a new license. In some cases, the physician will be required to take a written examination. If the physician is under investigation or the state board has initiated disciplinary action, this option may not be available. There were 570 surrendered licenses in 2017.
- Probation: This means that the physician’s license is going to be monitored for a certain period by the issuing state board. The specific situation will determine the terms and conditions of the probation, but there are some common requirements of a probation, including supervision by another physician, additional training, and possibly procedures that the physician will not be allowed to perform. There were 764 cases of probation in 2017.
- License suspended: This means that the physician must temporarily stop practicing medicine until he or she is granted permission to continue practicing by the issuing medical board. Once a disciplinary investigation has been completed, or other board requirements are fulfilled, the license may be reinstated. There were 796 license suspensions filed against physicians in 2017.
- Mandatory continuing medical education (CME): Disciplinary action against a physician often involves a CME requirement, the goal of which is to improve their standard-of-care diagnosis and treatment skills.
- Conditions imposed: This means that the physician must satisfy certain conditions if he or she wants to avoid additional penalties. In 2017, a total of 887 conditions were imposed by state medical boards.
- Monetary fines: Under certain circumstances, physicians may be required to pay fines for their unprofessional conduct.
- Administration action: In most cases, this is a form of non-punitive censure, and the physician will keep their medical license. For example, if a physician was overcompensated by a health care insurance carrier, the state medical board may take administration action against them to recover those funds.
- Reprimand: In some cases, the state medical board may issue a reprimand for a minor violation rather than file formal charges of a complaint. This can be a private or public reprimand and is issued in the form of an official warning, a letter of censure, or a non-disciplinary advisory letter. In 2017, there were 1,147 reprimands issued by state medical boards.
- License restricted: A physician’s medical license may be restricted for substance abuse, mental health issues, health conditions that affect cognition, overprescribing medication, as well as non-medical criminal charges such as driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A restricted license limits the physician’s ability to practice medicine, including the loss of clinical privileges. There were 1,343 cases of license restriction in 2017.
What Mistakes Do Physicians Make When Facing Disciplinary Action?
It is extremely important that physicians respond properly to a board complaint. A failure to do so can impact a physician’s reputation and livelihood. However, there are some common mistakes that physicians often make after a board complaint has been filed, including the following:
- Not taking the complaint seriously. In some cases, physicians dismiss the allegations, act as if nothing happened, or behave as though they have been wrongly accused. Regardless of the situation, physicians should always take complaints seriously and take the necessary steps to plan a thorough and respectful response.
- Missing the response deadline. When the medical board sends a physician a notice of complaint, it almost always includes a deadline for the doctor to file a response to the allegations, as well as provide copies of the patient’s records. Physicians often put this off or forget to gather the information. A failure to respond in a timely manner can result in more serious consequences, including sanctions being imposed. It is highly recommended that physicians check the due date and respond as soon as possible. If they need an extension, they should make this request well before the deadline arrives.
- Failing to consult with a lawyer. Physicians do not seek legal counsel right away for a number of reasons, including personal pride, cost concerns, or because they think they can handle the matter themselves. However, physicians are not equipped to defend themselves in a licensing board meeting. They should consult with an experienced physician lawyer as soon as possible.
- Failing to notify their malpractice insurer. Physicians are required to notify their malpractice insurer and a risk manager if a complaint has been filed. A failure to do this can jeopardize insurance coverage, their employment, ownership in an organization, and their reputation. The physician must notify the insurer and the risk manager as soon as possible and request legal assistance that may be available.
- Attempting to prevent the complaining party from proceeding with the complaint. Physicians are strongly discouraged from trying to dissuade the complaining party from making a complaint. In addition, they should avoid all conversations with potential witnesses and other third parties. Instead, they should discuss the case only with their physician lawyer. This will ensure that the conversations are protected under the attorney-client privilege.
- Responding angrily. When a physician believes that he or she is being attacked, it is natural to feel angry or defensive. However, taking the high road is always the better way to handle the situation. Remaining calm, cooperative, and respectful will likely result in a more favorable outcome.
- Admitting fault unnecessarily. It is a mistake to admit fault, even if the physician thinks that his or her honestly will be rewarded. Answer all questions honestly without needlessly accepting blame. Always seek legal counsel before providing any information that could imply fault.
- Responding to board members as if speaking to another physician. When addressing the medical board, keep in mind that they are not trained medical professionals. Avoid using complicated medical jargon, but do not speak to them in a condescending manner. Provide clear evidence that supports the diagnosis, care, or treatment that is the reason for the disciplinary action. If necessary, consider retaining an expert witness.
- Failing to respond to every charge. In some cases, a physician may only respond to some of the charges included in the complaint. A failure to respond to all charges can result in the board assuming that the allegation is true. The physician’s response should address each allegation, as well as the board’s stated concerns.
- Hiding or destroying records. Physicians who revise, hide, or destroy records or other evidence can lose their license. When facing disciplinary action, the physician must collect and provide certified copies of all requested records. If there is any information missing, the physician must provide a reasonable explanation for any omission or error.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Physicians Facing Disciplinary Action
If disciplinary action has been taken against you, do not hesitate to contact the Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will work closely with you to ensure that you are in compliance with the requirements, that your career and reputation is protected, and that you reach a successful settlement outcome. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.