It’s something that every physician dreads: a patient files a complaint with a state medical board. When this happens, physicians often enter into a cycle of worry and confusion which mirrors the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
But there’s one thing a physician should never do if a letter of complaint comes in the mail. Ignore it. In many cases, doctors simply ignore that important piece of correspondence believing that the accusations filed against them are simply without merit. Unbelievably, ignoring a complaint is common.
So what happens after a complaint is made? In many cases, a complaint can leave the dreaded “black mark” on a physician’s record. And the process, for some, may be even more harrowing than a medical malpractice lawsuit. The results of a medical board hearing may result in severe restrictions or even revocation of a medical license.
According to a piece published on Medscape titled “4 Things Not to Do at a Medical Board Meeting,” Anne. L. Finger, MA wrote, “To be sure, the numbers of physicians who are disciplined by a state medical board are small. The Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB) told Medscape that of 878,194 actively licensed physicians nationwide in 2012, a total of 4479 (fewer than 1%) were disciplined. Still, the consequences of such action are substantial and may involve loss of licensure, livelihood, and profession.”
But before that happens, here are some important tips:
- Call Your Medical Malpractice Carrier Immediately. For example, Capson Physicians Insurance will assign a claims attorney to your case, not just a claims adjuster. Capson attorneys have specific experience in handling medical board complaints, as well as medical malpractice lawsuits. Capson’s claims attorneys will also help you retain outside counsel to respond directly to the board on your behalf. The sooner you make that call to your carrier, the easier the process will be.
- Don’t Panic. Some complaints filed with medical boards are found to be non-jurisdictional, meaning the state medical board has no jurisdiction over the contents of the complaint. Other complaints are dismissed for various other reasons. In Texas in 2016, for example, 878 total medical board decisions included 271 dismissals. The key is to respond quickly and thoroughly, through an attorney, to a letter of complaint.
- Be Proactive. Depending on the state in which a physician practices, one generally has about 30 days to respond to the complaint. Check your own response time carefully in the letter, and inform your medical malpractice carrier the moment you receive that letter. Don’t shove the complaint to the bottom of your “to-do” list. And by all means, do not respond to the complaint on your own – always report it to your carrier and obtain the advice of counsel first.
- Get Prepared. If your case moves forward, work diligently with your assigned attorney to prepare for the “informal settlement conference.” Please note that these are run like a court hearing and should be treated like one. You’ll be asked to gather documents, notes and files.
- Take Time Off If Need Be. Physicians may need to take time away from their work to deal with the complaint proceedings. Anywhere from an afternoon off to a few days may be necessary depending on the scope of the hearing or other board activity involved. Having a plan in place to meet the needs of your patients while you’re away should be a top priority.
- Check Your Emotions. Some physicians respond to a complaint with indignation either in writing or during a hearing. They are angry, feel judged and are bitter about what they believe to be unfounded accusations. But responding with dissent and anger will only contribute to a contentious and difficult process which, more often than not, will adversely affect the physician.
Want to learn more about what physicians can do when they receive a medical board complaint? Check out these articles: