Beyond a well-appointed waiting room filled with the fanciest designer furniture, examination modules boasting the latest in medical technology, and perhaps a high, six-figure income, a doctor’s most important asset may actually be a single, slim piece of paper that hangs on his or her inner office wall. The professional license held by a doctor, surgeon, nurse or chiropractor, that bestows upon its owner the legal authority to practice medicine in the state of Florida surpasses all other attributes and material features of one’s medical practice, because any disciplinary action taken against that license can have a devastating impact on a doctor’s ability to continue earning a living in his or her chosen medical field.

Disciplinary Actions Against Doctors

Medical professionals can face disciplinary action for a variety of reasons including:

  • Medical malpractice or substandard care
  • Inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances
  • Unprofessional or sexual misconduct
  • Substance abuse
  • Taking advantage of a patient for financial gain
  • Prescription fraud
  • Billing issues
  • Improper record keeping
  • Medicare/Medicaid fraud

Contacting an Attorney

Physicians spend years learning how to practice medicine, just as lawyers spend years learning how to carry out their professional responsibilities. So if your career as a doctor is at stake because of a complaint made against you by a patient, colleague, former employee, competitor, hospital, managed care company, or any other person of interest either with the state’s medical licensing agency (the Florida Board of Medicine), the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), or the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, it is imperative that you immediately seek out the services of an knowledgeable and zealous attorney with experience in the field of medical license defense.

The Medical License Complaint Process

After a complaint is lodged against you that is non-trivial in nature, an investigator from the FDOH or the Board of Medicine will be assigned to the case to determine if there is any merit to the accusation. The investigator will likely call or write to you requesting a meeting. A common mistake made by medical practitioners at this stage in the process is to either ignore the investigation notice or not view it as a serious matter, thereby failing to provide an adequate response. Regardless of your opinion concerning the merits of the complaint, it is absolutely necessary that you contact an attorney before meeting with the investigator. Your lawyer will aid you in crafting a thoughtful and properly drawn response to the notice in order to maximize the possibility of resolving the matter before further actions are initiated. At this point in the process, all complaint investigations remain confidential.

Does the complaint have merit?

Should the investigator determine that the complaint does have merit, it will move it to a due process, or probable cause, panel. You and your lawyer should request that the investigative file be made available, thus giving you the opportunity to submit any additional information to the panel that rebuts or refutes the allegations made. The panel may decide either to dismiss the case entirely, issue a non-disciplinary letter of concern, or it may determine that there is sufficient evidence to move the complaint forward to the next step in the process, which is the filing of an administrative complaint.

The Administrative Complaint

If an administrative complaint is approved by a probable cause panel, you will be served with a copy. It is at this point in the process that the matter becomes part of the public record, so even if the complaint is ultimately dismissed, your reputation as a medical doctor can be tarnished. It is also common for the FDOH to provide you with a proposed settlement agreement along with the administrative complaint. You now have several choices, all of which should be discussed thoroughly with your attorney. You can admit the allegations and accept the settlement offer (it is important to note that the Board of Medicine retains the authority to reject any settlement agreement and that acceptance of a settlement may seriously damage your career); you can choose not to dispute the complaint and waive your right to a hearing before the Board of Medicine; you can submit the matter to the Board for an informal hearing; or you can choose to request a formal hearing before the Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH).

The Administrative Hearing

If you choose to contest the charges, you will appear before an administrative court judge. Your attorney will work with you to prepare for your hearing by: conducting discovery of the complainant’s case; obtaining all pertinent documents; preparing motions and pleadings; interviewing and subpoenaing witnesses; retaining experts; and making sure that your case is properly presented before the court.

After hearing all the evidence, the judge will issue a final order and file it with the FDOH and the Board of Medicine. Possible outcomes include:

  • Dismissal of the case
  • An official reprimand
  • The imposition of fines and/or other costs
  • Probation
  • Suspension or Revocation of your medical license

You may appeal any disposition of your case to the District Court of Appeals.

The Necessity of Obtaining Legal Counsel

As a doctor, you would never suggest that your lawyer diagnose his own symptoms and, then perhaps, suggest his own medical treatment. In the same regard, you, as a medical practitioner, should never attempt to deal with a complaint against you without obtaining competent legal counsel. As you have seen in the above narrative, at each step of the process, you risk serious and even fatal damage to your medical career if you are not prepared to deal skillfully with the complaint process. Your attorney is much more adept than you are in defending you against allegations that may impact your future ability to practice medicine. Make the wise choice and contact John R. Samaan as soon as you become aware of any complaint lodged against you.