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

Mark Crane


July 24, 2018

In This Article

Infractions on Social Media

Whatever you post on Facebook or other social media platforms can spur an investigation. "One charge nurse with 30 years of experience posted a selfie of herself and other nurses on Facebook," Chapman said. "Behind her was a surgical board for the day. Patient names appeared in this selfie. A nurse who didn't like her reported this to the state board. The charge nurse was suspended for three months."

Doctors and nurses who take photos while in the operating room have been disciplined. "The board wanted to know why they were on the phone during a patient's surgery," Collis said. "We routinely tell physicians not to 'friend' people on Facebook. There are dangers."

"You might think you're 'talking' only to your friends but the information gets out. If you're going in for surgery and see on Facebook that your doctor was at a great party last night, that might give you some pause. Doctors may post things like, 'I had a crappy week. I don't want to go to work today!' That's a big mistake."

David Adelson notes, "More often than not, it wasn't even the doctor who posted the problem photo. Other people might innocently post a photo of you, but it gets reposted to everyone in your circle. And there would be privacy concerns. Have a chat with your friends and ask them not to post, or to take down, photos of you. This goes for medical practice websites as well. Make sure you aren't disclosing anything that is HIPAA protected and you didn't get permission to use."

In these days of intense scrutiny about sexual harassment, some attorneys suggest that any time a doctor does an exam of a patient of the opposite sex there should be someone else in the exam room.

Still, a majority of physicians reject this advice. They say not only does it interfere with developing a physician-patient relationship, but if you plan to have a clinician in the office with you all day, you'll likely need to hire another staff member.

Old Issues Can Haunt You

An arrest for vandalism or driving under the influence 20 years ago could return to plague you. "Maybe a doctor was arrested as a college student for some foolish prank with his fraternity brothers," Brian Tew said. "Often the charges may be dropped or expunged six months later if there is no repetition of the activity."

"Perhaps your criminal attorney told you there's no need to report it because it was expunged. That information can still get to the state board. If you were asked on a license application or renewal if you've been arrested and you say No, the board can hold up the application and take action against the doctor."

"Perhaps the doctor had to repeat a month of training in medical school," Beth Collis said. "He may not even remember that. But you have to err on the side of disclosure. Failing to disclose what happened can lead the board to take action. They have become very punitive about that."

That situation occurred to a client of Ronald Chapman's. A physician had to repeat a semester during residency 25 years earlier. An application he made for a license in another state asked if he'd ever been placed on academic probation. "He forgot about the incident and said No. The state board denied his application.

That denial had to be reported to other states where the doctor was licensed. We got the first board to allow him to withdraw the application and then resubmit it with a Yes and an explanation. He was granted a license. But the process took months and cost the doctor plenty. You must self-report any issues to every state you are licensed in."

While circumstances like these are infrequent, they happen enough so physicians should err on the side of disclosing the information. Boards believe that the cover-up is worse than the crime, Beth Collis said.

Don't Avoid the Patient

The main trigger for a complaint is a dissatisfied patient, Chapman said. "Doctors must deal with the patient's frustration. Bedside manner counts for a lot. Some physicians avoid patients after a poor outcome. That just makes the patient think you must be hiding something. It's always worth the time to sit down with the patient and family to air out the issue."

If you know that a patient is unhappy with the outcome or progress of a treatment, don't avoid him. Those are the patients who may be likely to complain to a state board. Be sure to have a mechanism for patient feedback in your office, whether it's a complaint through the patient portal or a suggestion box, etc.

It's best to speak with the patient directly, Chapman said. You can acknowledge that the treatment didn't achieve the results you both wanted and encourage questions about future care.

The vast majority of complaints filed against doctors are dismissed without any discipline such as a reprimand or suspension of the license. Still, the stakes are high and physicians can avoid problems by being candid with patients and taking any complaint seriously.


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