If the state medical licensing board has taken disciplinary action against you, this can have a significant impact on your medical license, your livelihood, and your reputation. In addition, if you face allegations of misconduct later, having a disciplinary action on your record can be very damaging. However, if you are being investigated for a license violation and you are facing disciplinary action, there are steps you can take to protect your rights and reduce the severity of the punishment or result in the case being dropped. By filing an appeal, you have the opportunity to have your case reviewed and contest the medical board’s decision. A skilled lawyer experienced in employment law will assist you with every step of the appeals process and ensure that you reach the best possible outcome.
What Are the Most Common Reasons Doctors Face Disciplinary Action?
The road to becoming a licensed physician is long and involves years of rigorous education and training. As patients, we put our lives in the hands of the doctors responsible for treating us. However, there are times when even the most experienced and respected physician may behave in a way that warrants disciplinary action. Disciplinary actions against physicians are uncommon in the United States. In fact, according to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), out of the roughly one million licensed physicians in the United States, there are only about 8,000 disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards each year. This statistic has remained relatively constant over the past 10 years. However, a recent article published in JAMA found that the most common reasons that state medical boards take disciplinary action against a physician include the following:
- Sexual misconduct: This involves behavior that exploits the physician-patient relationship in a sexual way. The behavior can be physical or verbal. Sexual misconduct and sexual boundary issues were one of the top three reasons that state medical boards took disciplinary action against physicians for unprofessional behavior. Although 15 percent of cases were cited as sexual misconduct or sexual boundary issues, the actual number is likely higher because medical boards use a range of terms to describe these actions, including unprofessional conduct, physician-patient boundary issues, and moral unfitness. Physicians have an ethical duty to report any actual or suspected sexual misconduct. A failure to do so can result in disciplinary action for unprofessional conduct, license suspension, fines of up to $100,000, and other consequences.
- Unprofessional conduct: This can include a range of unacceptable behaviors, including a failure to meet the accepted standard of care, prescribing medication without a legitimate reason, providing dishonest information during the license application process, conviction of fraud, and inadequate record-keeping. In 2019, this was the most common reason for disciplinary action, including roughly half of all cases, with an additional six percent cited for professional misconduct.
- Alcohol or substance abuse: Unfortunately, some physicians resort to drugs and alcohol to deal with stress, pressure associated with the job, personal problems, or other issues. This can seriously jeopardize the health of the health care provider’s patients if they are impaired while treating a patient. The most common behaviors that lead to disciplinary review include substance abuse disorders and controlled-substance violations.
What Are the Possible Grounds for Challenging a Medical Board Decision?
If your state medical board has filed a disciplinary action against you, there are a number of claims that you may pursue to challenge the decision, including the following:
- Due process and equal protection arguments. Regardless of the details of the complaint, you have the right to due process, which means that you cannot lose your medical license or staff privileges without a fair hearing. You may make the claim that the medical board treated you in a way that was unconstitutional, either because due process was not followed, or because you were not granted equal protection. For example, if your license was suspended after you plead guilty to drunk driving, you may sue the medical board if you believe that your right to due process was violated at your medical board hearing.
- Double jeopardy. If the medical board is trying to punish you twice for the same offense, you may make a claim of double jeopardy. For example, a physician who was convicted of kidnapping and sexual abuse of an employee claimed a violation of the double jeopardy clause after the medical board imposed a punishment of five years of probation and community service, followed by a one-year suspension of his medical license. However, in this case, the punishments were deemed permissible, as the probation was meant to protect the public from criminal behavior and the license suspension was to protect the public from an unfit physician.
- Another complaint you may pursue is that the board is not competent to take disciplinary action against you. For example, a pediatrician who was convicted of child molestation argued that the board’s decisions were inconsistent, and that it considered facts that were outside the case record. In addition, the board made no effort to examine past cases and use them to make decisions on future cases. However, in this case, the court was hesitant to pass judgment on the board’s proceedings.
- This is another argument that you may pursue if disciplinary action has been taken against you by the medical board. For example, if a member of the board has a clear bias against you, yet he or she was permitted to participate in the disciplinary proceedings, you may pursue this argument if you are able to provide adequate proof of the board member’s bias.
- Lack of evidence. If the medical board based its decision on insubstantial evidence that there was a violation of the rules of professional conduct, this may be a valid argument to challenge the board’s decision.
- Disciplinary action was arbitrary. If the board’s decision regarding liability or the imposed discipline was random, careless, or based on other inappropriate considerations, you may have grounds to appeal the decision.
How Do I Appeal the Medical Board’s Decision?
After a medical board has made a decision, it can have a serious impact on your medical career. Therefore, it is crucial that you work closely with a skilled and experienced employment lawyer who will protect your legal rights and develop a strong case that challenges the board’s decision. The appeals process allows you to contest the decision and have your case reviewed. Ultimately, this may result in a less severe punishment, or the case being dropped entirely. Oftentimes, physicians and other health care providers who have faced disciplinary action assume that once the medical board has made their decision, there is nothing they can do. However, that is simply not the case. As part of the appeals process, an employment lawyer will seek a temporary injunction or restraining order, which will prevent the medical board from enforcing its decision while the appeal is pending. If successful, this will prohibit the medical board from suspending or revoking your medical license or imposing other sanctions or punishments until the court decides whether the appeal has merit.
An injunction may reduce the damage that an unfair or unreasonable disciplinary action can cause, both to you and your reputation, as well as the patients who rely on you for treatment. An injunction means that your doors can remain open to patients while your appeal is pending. In addition, if you are licensed in another state, the injunction can prevent the state where you are licensed from taking disciplinary action against you.
How Can an Employment Lawyer Help Me?
When your reputation and livelihood are on the line, it is highly recommended that you hire an experienced employment lawyer to assist you with appealing a medical board decision. Physicians and other health care providers are generally not equipped with the legal knowledge and experience necessary to defend an unfair medical board decision. In addition, if there are deadlines for filing an appeal, an employment lawyer will make sure that the necessary paperwork is filed on time. A skilled attorney will thoroughly examine the details of the disciplinary action against you and determine whether you have ground for an appeal. Assuming that you do, an employment lawyer will request a restraining order or a temporary injunction. Ultimately, the goal is to overturn the order, reinstate your medical license, and ensure that you are able to practice medicine with your reputation intact.
Philadelphia Physician Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Help Clients Appeal Medical Board Decisions
If you or someone you know is facing disciplinary action and wishes to appeal the medical board decision, do not hesitate to contact the Philadelphia physician employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We have a proven track record of reaching successful outcomes for physicians facing a range of legal issues. We will work tirelessly to ensure that your rights and your reputation are protected. Contact us online or call us at 215-569-1999 for a free, confidential consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.