Danger: Shrugging Off "Silly" Complaints or Board Requests
When a complaint has been received and an investigation launched, you'll receive a letter notifying you of the complaint and requesting a response within a specified time frame.
"Take the Board's letters seriously," warns Dennis Hursh, Esq, founder and managing partner of Hursh and Hursh, PC, a Pennsylvania-based law firm specializing in physician-related legal issues.
One common way that doctors get themselves in trouble is by ignoring Medical Board letters, or deciding that a complaint against them is so trumped up, they can't be bothered dealing with it. Hursh describes physician clients who have "simply stuffed the letter into their drawers. By the time they got around to dealing with the Board, there was disciplinary action against them."
Gary Sastow, Esq, a Harrison, New York-based lawyer with a specialty in healthcare law, adds, "Even 'housekeeping' matters, such as deficient CME credits, must be addressed immediately."
Never regard a complaint as too petty for attention. "We on the Board have to take any complaint seriously, even if it's as 'trivial' as, 'I was kept waiting too long in the doctor's office,'" says Gregory Adams, MD, a family practice physician based in Newark, Delaware, and a member of the Delaware Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline.
"It can be tempting to be dismissive of a complaint that appears frivolous or has been filed by someone a physician regards as a 'crackpot' or unreliable. We recognize that some complaints are unreasonable, but even in those cases, we expect that physicians will respond appropriately," Dr. Adams advises.
Get Legal Advice Before Responding to the Letter
"Beware when the Board wants to talk to you, either in person or by phone," Simas warns. "This meeting might be presented as an informal 'fireside chat,' but in reality, everything you say is admissible and might be used against you in ways you can't anticipate, especially if it's recorded."
"It's easy to inadvertently incriminate yourself," Dr. Zur agrees. "Healthcare laws are intricate, and physicians don't always know their rights." For example, "you don't have to answer every question, and a lawyer can instruct you when to keep silent."
"A lawyer can help make sure that the issue being investigated doesn't mushroom into a larger investigation of unrelated issues, and that it gets defended as vigorously as possible," notes Dr. Zur. "A lawyer can interject when irrelevant subjects are introduced, can offer countervailing opinions or precedents, or can rephrase a question so that the client answers only with the pertinent information."
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Cite this: Never Face a Medical Board Investigation Alone - Medscape - Jan 17, 2013.