If you have ever been the subject of a medical board complaint, you know how important it is to respond promptly and with the utmost degree of professionalism. While a medical board complaint may feel like a personal attack on your reputation as a skilled and dedicated physician, you must act quickly to reach the best possible outcome. If a medical board complaint has been filed against you, it is highly recommended that you contact a skilled lawyer at your earliest convenience.
Unlike a medical malpractice lawsuit, anyone can file a complaint with the medical board, including a patient or a patient’s family member. They send the complaint in writing or via e-mail to the state medical board, outlining the details of the complaint. Since there are no limitations to who can file a complaint, medical boards receive thousands of complaints each year from patients with a wide range of complaints, including diagnosis errors, prescribing errors, failure to provide the necessary post-operative care, and violations of doctor-patient confidentiality.
The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) will prioritize the complaints and fast-track those more likely to cause imminent patient harm, including allegations of sexual misconduct, practicing while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or failing to provide the accepted standard of care.
What Steps Should I Take In Response to a Medical Board Complaint?
First and foremost, you must not panic. While your initial response to the complaint may be shock, anger, dismay, or a combination, do not let these feelings get to you. Take a moment to regroup and read the complaint thoroughly. The document will likely include a date by which you are expected to respond to the complaint, so mark that in your calendar and figure out what your next steps should be, ideally with the help of an experienced lawyer. They will review the allegations and assist you with the following:
- Notify the necessary entities. You may be legally required to disclose any pending complaints with the state medical board to your employer, an affiliate hospital, or your malpractice insurance carrier. Each of these entities must be notified about the complaint per the terms of your agreement.
- Collect key evidence. Ensure that you collect as much information and documentation as possible. The evidence should demonstrate that you offered the standard of care and followed the recommended protocol while the patient was under your care. If the allegations include accusations of medical errors, provide evidence to disprove these accusations, including patient medical records, treatment notes, and witness statements.
- Develop a response. You and your lawyer will write an initial response to the board complaint. This is an essential part of the process, as it will significantly impact the outcome of the complaint. A thorough, well-crafted initial response can often prevent frivolous, unwarranted complaints from going any further.
What Pitfalls Should I Be Aware of When Responding to a Complaint?
Several unexpected issues may arise when preparing the initial response to the medical board. These can make the process more complicated and impact the outcome of the complaint. If you know these pitfalls, you can take proactive steps to avoid them. The following are examples of common pitfalls physicians face and possible remedies for each:
- Providing too much information. If you give more data than is necessary or relevant to your case, the board may find evidence of a different issue. By working closely with a lawyer, they will closely review your response and identify any mistake you may have made or information that is not relevant or beneficial to your case.
- Allowing your emotions to get the best of you. While this may be easier said than done, you are strongly urged to avoid losing your temper. The board’s job is to protect patients from substandard medical care, and while you may have been wrongly accused, responding aggressively will not help your case. If the board interviews you, answer their questions calmly and respectfully and not let your bruised ego derail the interview.
- Sharing private information about the complaint with others. Too often, physicians make a mistake posting personal information about the board complaints on the internet. Keep in mind that anytime you post something on the internet, it can be easily retrieved by a third party and used against you in the complaint. Rather than posting comments or information online, choose your confidants very carefully.
- Allowing yourself to be manipulated. If a patient offers to withdraw the complaint in exchange for something of value to them, this shows the board that you can be bought or manipulated under the right circumstances. This will compromise your credibility in the eyes of the board, even if the complaint is not warranted.
- Refusing to consider remediation. Suggesting remediation demonstrates that you are taking the complaint seriously and thinking about how to rectify the situation by offering a potential solution.
Medical board complaints are quite common, however, that does not make them less stressful. The following suggestions can help protect you:
- Continue to work after receiving a complaint. You may be shocked by the complaint, but that should not stop you from providing quality medical care to your patients. This is particularly true if the criticism is unwarranted. You must not panic or clear your schedule of all appointments with patients. This will make it look like you have a guilty conscience and have something to hide.
- Temporarily terminate unnecessary hospital affiliations. If you are a hospital staff member, you may be bound by bylaws that can put you at risk. The bylaws require you to report any medical board investigation findings. In addition, if a board member was offended by something you did or said, they may ask a hospital administrator to complain about you. You are urged to sever those ties while the complaint is being investigated. You can re-apply to the hospital once the issue has been resolved and the matter is closed.
- Notify your patients about the complaint. Loyal patients can be highly fierce allies who will gladly come to your defense if a complaint has been made against you. This also demonstrates that you are willing to be transparent with your patients about the complaint and that you are not trying to hide anything from them.
- Make sure that you have the right coverage for a medical board complaint. While you probably have medical malpractice insurance, you should check your policy to ensure appropriate coverage for a medical board complaint. If you do not have it, it is highly recommended to purchase additional coverage.
- Hire an experienced lawyer. This will ensure that your legal rights and your professional reputation are protected. A skilled lawyer will obtain the documents and evidence necessary to reach a successful outcome.
Philadelphia Physician Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Represent Doctors Facing Medical Board Complaints
If you have been named in a medical board complaint, do not hesitate to contact one of our Philadelphia physician lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will work tirelessly to ensure that your career, reputation, and livelihood are protected. Call us at 215-569-1999 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, Northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.