Doctors normally obtain insurance and plan against a possible private malpractice lawsuit. But physicians, physician assistants and podiatrists, like other licensed professionals, may have to confront a complaint submitted to their licensing board. This has the potential of restricting or even taking away their right to practice their profession in Alaska.
All 50 states have laws and professional boards that govern these practitioners and set forth professional liability and misconduct. Unlike a private malpractice lawsuit, patients and consumers can conveniently file a complaint at no cost.
Findings of violations can lead to fines, damage to reputation and practice restrictions. In some cases, a board may take away the practitioner’s greatest asset by suspending or even permanently taking away their ability to practice medicine.
Medical board complaints may accompany or come before a civil medical malpractice lawsuit. Discipline is usually public and contained in the physician’s public record.
Discipline is also reported across the nation through the Federation of State Medical Board Physician Data Center. In some cases, a disciplinary action in one state can lead to discipline in other states where the doctor is licensed.
According to the FSMB, medical boards review and prioritize complaints. Boards typically place a priority on complaints that indicate the possibility of imminent patient harm such as engaging in sexual misconduct with patients, deviating from the accepted standard of medical care and practicing while impaired by drugs or alcohol.
Common standard of care complaints include:
- Failure to diagnose.
- Inappropriate prescribing and monitoring of opioids and other controlled substances.
- Incorrect medication prescription.
- Violating physician-patient confidentiality.
- Inappropriate behavior that interferes with patient care such as interactions with other providing care.
- Failing to provide proper postoperative care.
- Failure to respond to a call from a healthcare facility to assist a patient in a traumatic situation.
The complaint process includes board review and investigation. The practitioner, complainant and witnesses may be interviewed. The board will obtain any relevant records and has the power to subpoena evidence.
Unfounded complaints are closed before an official investigation begins. To be actionable, the complaint must allege conduct that is substantiated and fall within the laws and regulations enforced by the board. Fee disputes are not grounds for discipline.
If there is sufficient evidence, a complaint will proceed to an administrative hearing which is similar to a trial. The hearing results undergo legal review.
The board and the practitioner can also settle allegations without undergoing a hearing by entering a consent agreement. These parties can agree to the discipline imposed when this occurs.
Practitioners should seek legal representation during the investigation process. Attorneys can help protect their rights.