Never Face a Medical Board Investigation Alone

Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LMSW


January 17, 2013

In This Article

The Power and Structure of the Medical Board

Every state has a Medical Board, defined by the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) as "a group of volunteers who are charged with...[protecting] the public from unprofessional, improper and incompetent practice of medicine." In some states, Medical Boards are independent entities, while in others they operate under a larger umbrella agency, such as the Department of Health or the Office of the Professions.

Board members are typically appointed by the state's governor. Nonphysicians have recently been included, partially to dispel the notion that Medical Boards are "old boys' clubs," according to David Herlihy, Esq, Executive Director of the Vermont Board of Medical Practice. Boards also contract with attorneys and call in expert consultants.

The Medical Board investigates clinical and nonclinical misconduct (eg, inappropriate sexual or financial practices, boundary violations, unethical behavior, failure to properly maintain patient records, improper prescribing of drugs, or criminal activity). It has the power to revoke or suspend licenses, place the physician on probation, mandate that a physician practice only under the supervision of another physician (a "practice monitor"), or mete out other forms of disciplinary action.

"Your license, career, and future are in their hands," observes Ofer Zur, PhD, author of When the Board Comes Knocking: How to Respond to a Licensing Board Investigation and Protect Your License, Professional Career, and Livelihood.

Steps in the Process

The investigative process is complex, and procedures differ from state to state. In Vermont, for example, "we respond to a complaint by appointing a small investigative committee," Herlihy says. "If the investigators feel that there has been misconduct, then charges are filed with the Assistant Attorney General. A new Medical Board panel is convened to further the investigation."

In California, the process is different, says Simas. The initial investigators are peace officers -- and not even necessarily physicians -- who use an "expert" physician consultant to assist them in reviewing the case. Frequently, the "expert" has no expertise in the discipline of the licensee under investigation.

If the physician's actions are deemed to be in violation of the Medical Practice Act, the investigators refer the case to the Office of the Attorney General where an "accusation" is drafted and the case will be adjudicated by an administrative judge.

"In Vermont, a physician who's been disciplined has a right to appeal the administrative court's decision, by taking it to the state's Supreme Court," Herlihy says. In other states, a district or circuit court might be the appropriate venue for the appeal.