The Dangers of a Medical Board Investigation: How to Protect Yourself

Mark Crane

Disclosures

July 24, 2018

In This Article

Why It's Wise to Have an Attorney for Most Complaints

"The Ohio Board of Medicine receives about 9,000 complaints a year," notes Beth Collis, an attorney in Columbus. "Many are minor or frivolous, such as allegations that the doctor or his staff was rude to the patient or family, billing questions, being forced to wait too long for an appointment, etc. The board generally doesn't take action in these cases and may not even inform the doctor of them.

"In one case, the physician terminated a patient from his practice who was non-compliant and a drug-seeker," she said. "But the doctor used foul language and the patient complained. The board looked into it and found for the doctor but warned him about being disrespectful."

Some physicians simply decline to answer the complaint. That's a big mistake. Failing to respond to a complaint can be grounds for disciplinary action. "You can't just blow off a board investigation," Collis said. "You must cooperate."

"No complaint is too minor. Too many physicians think they don't need a lawyer and can just talk the board investigators into dropping the complaint. Doctors may sincerely want to help but they don't understand the rules and pitfalls. They are often too chatty and explain things that weren't even asked."

David L. Adelson, an attorney with Norris, McLaughlin & Marcus in Bridgewater, New Jersey, agrees. "Boards may demand records of other patients who've had the same procedure. Healthcare attorneys can proactively address issues before the board demands it, attempt to limit the scope of the investigation and help doctors find witnesses to testify for them."

"Administrative law is a specialty so don't hire a divorce or real estate lawyer. The rules are different," Brian Tew said. "One doctor intended to write back to the board before consulting an attorney. I was glad I could stop him. The letter was self-serving and he threatened to sue the board for emotional damages they'd caused him. That certainly wouldn't have helped his case. Doctors might react out of anger. An attorney will prevent that."

Ronald Chapman recalls a physician who volunteered to show a board investigator his records in a case involving the prescription of opiates. "He wanted to prove that he examined the patients. Three weeks later, the board amended the complaint to add new counts. Doctors shouldn't handle this alone. They often just dig the hole deeper for themselves. A board investigation is a quasi-criminal case that needs to be taken seriously. Doctors can't talk their way out of it."

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