Dangers of a medical board investigation: How to protect yourself


“There are a lot of ways doctors get into trouble,” said Edward Dauer, MD, a radiologist who served on the Florida board for 11 years.

Investigations often expand beyond their original scope into all aspects of a practice. “Once you’re on their radar, they can find something,” Dr. Sullivan said.

All punitive actions taken by state boards are reported to the Department of Health & Human Services’ National Practitioner Data Bank, which is accessible to all state boards. Sanctioned physicians who set up practice in another state often find that their new home has adopted the sanctions leveled by the original state, something boards can do without conducting their own investigations.

“For doctors, discipline is forever. It never goes off your record,” Dr. Dauer said.

In addition, Medicare, Medicaid, and private insurers can exclude disciplined physicians, which can cripple a practice’s finances. So what can doctors do to avoid problems with the boards?

Don’t do anything wrong

That sounds glib and obvious, but many physicians get into trouble by unwittingly violating state medical regulations regarding such things as CME, insurance requirements, failure to notify the board of address changes, and personal relationships with current or former patients.

“The best advice to avoid these issues is to do a Google search for the Medical Practice Act in the state in which they practice,” said Dr. Sullivan. He noted that doctors should regularly check for changes in regulations.

Keeping on good terms with colleagues and patients also helps, he said, noting that many complaints stem from personal disputes and grievances.

But what if a physician becomes the subject of an investigation? What should they do?

Take any complaint seriously

Too many physicians dismiss investigations initially. “Some people have the wrong idea that if they ignore it, it will go away. It won’t go away,” Dr. Sullivan said.

Whether the initial contact comes through a letter or a visit from a board investigator, it should be treated with urgency. Ohio attorney Beth Collis said one client angrily scrawled one-word answers with a Sharpie on the questionnaire he was mailed – answers he was stuck defending throughout the rest of the investigation. Other doctors have ordered investigators out of their offices – another mistake. Failure to cooperate can result in an immediate license suspension.

“They should be speaking to these investigators like they were talking to a highway patrolman on the side of the road. They hold all the cards,” said Ms. Collis, who specializes in representing professionals before licensing boards.

Some physicians mistakenly assume that because their state board is made up mostly of fellow doctors, they will be able to make a complaint go away with some collegial chat.

Not so. “Medical board members see themselves as protecting the public. They’re very punitive,” Ms. Collis said.

At one time, state boards might have been lax in their supervision of physicians, but that changed in the 1980s when the watchdog group Public Citizen began ranking state medical boards by how effective they were in policing doctors.


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