Disciplinary Actions Taken By Medical Boards

| Posted in Medical Malpractice on May 21, 2020

disciplinary action

After working hard to establish yourself as a physician, you may be stunned to learn that a complaint has been filed against you. This situation can be incredibly stressful, particularly as you contemplate possible disciplinary actions that the medical board may take.

Depending on the severity of the alleged violation, you could be facing anything from a citation and/or a fine up to having your license revoked. If you are allowed to continue practicing medicine, there may be a number of conditions attached to your ability to practice. 

If a complaint has been filed against you, the best course of action that you can take is to consult with a California medical license defense attorney as soon as possible. Your lawyer can ensure that you comply with the appropriate deadlines, put together a strong defense to the allegations against you, and advocate for you throughout the process.

The Enforcement Process

The Medical Board of California (MBC) licenses and regulates physicians and surgeons within the state of California. Its oversight authority includes investigating complaints of physician misconduct, and, when necessary, taking disciplinary action against doctors who have violated the laws and regulations that govern the practice of medicine.

Complaints against a physician or surgeon may be filed with the MBC by almost anyone, including patients, the family of a patient, coworkers, credentialing committees, and hospitals. After the MBC receives a complaint, it begins the investigation process. Depending on the facts of the case, this complaint may lead to the Attorney General’s Office filing an accusation against the doctor.

An accusation is a formal legal document that lists the charges and/or the law(s) that the physician is alleged to have violated. Once an accusation has been filed, it may be resolved in one of two ways: through a stipulated settlement pursuant to the Disciplinary Guidelines, or through a hearing before an administrative law judge. For either option, there is a set list of disciplinary actions that may be imposed by the MBC.

Potential Disciplinary Actions Taken By Medical Boards

The MBC has promulgated a manual of Model Disciplinary Orders and Disciplinary Guidelines. This manual is used not only to achieve a stipulated settlement in disciplinary actions but also to guide administrative law judges as they determine an appropriate penalty for a given case.

There are three primary disciplinary actions that may be imposed by the MBC or an administrative law judge.

  1. Public Reprimand or Reproval
  2. License Probation
  3. License Revocation

A public reprimand is the least serious action that may be taken, while a revocation is the most severe sanction possible.

Public reprimands are typically issued for relatively minor infractions. Like all disciplinary actions taken by the MBC, these reprimands are announced by the Board and are readily searchable in a public database known as Breeze. However, in most situations, a public reprimand or reproval does not include restrictions on a physician’s license to practice medicine.

In contrast, when probation is mandated, the physician will have significant restrictions on their license for a set period of time. While they will be permitted to continue practicing, their license will be conditional. After the terms and conditions of probation have been completed, then they will be released from probation and permitted to practice medicine without conditions.

The specific probation restrictions will depend on the nature of the alleged violation. For example, in a case involving controlled substance violations, such as chemical dependency, the doctor’s ability to order, prescribe, or dispense certain medications may be limited. If the complaint against the physician involved more serious misconduct related to controlled substances, they may be prohibited from prescribing any medication and be required to surrender their DEA permit.

Standard probation conditions include:

  • Notifying interested parties of the disciplinary action, including hospitals where the physician has privileges or memberships and the doctor’s malpractice insurance carrier;
  • A prohibition on supervising physician assistants and advanced practice nurses;
  • Requirement to obey all federal, state, and local laws;
  • Submitting quarterly declarations on compliance with the terms of probation;
  • Submitting to interviews with the MBC at its request;
  • Informing the MBC of any periods of non-practice greater than 30 calendar days;
  • Paying probation costs and any restitution;
  • Surrendering a medical license for failure to comply with the terms and condition of probation;

Additional conditions are added based on the facts of a case.

Finally, revocation may be ordered for the most serious violations of the laws and regulations that govern physicians. A doctor subject to a revocation order will be unable to practice medicine, and their license will be revoked. After a specified period of time, they may be able to petition the Board for reinstatement.

In some cases, the administrative law judge may order revocation, subject to a stay. This means that a physician will be on probation for the length of the stay (for example, 3 years). If the terms and conditions of probation are violated within this time period, then the revocation may be reinstated.

The specific disciplinary action that is taken will vary based not only on the facts of the case but on any evidence of mitigating or other factors, such as acceptance of responsibility. The MBC disciplinary manual lists recommended discipline for specific violations, including:

  • Misleading advertising: minimum of stayed revocation with 1 year of probation, up to revocation;
  • Excessive prescribing: minimum of stayed revocation with 5 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Excessive treatments: minimum of stayed revocation with 5 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Sexual misconduct: minimum of stayed revocation with 7 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Sexual exploitation: revocation;
  • Mental or physical illness: minimum of stayed revocation with 5 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Registration as a sex offender: revocation;
  • Unprofessional conduct, gross negligence, incompetence, or failure to maintain adequate records: minimum of stayed revocation with 5 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Dishonesty (related to and arising from medical practice): minimum of stayed revocation with 1 year of suspension, and at least 7 years of probation, up to revocation;
  • Procuring license by fraud: revocation;
  • Conviction of a crime (related to and arising from medical practice): minimum of stayed revocation with 1 year of suspension, and at least 7 years of probation, up to revocation;

These are just some examples of potential disciplinary actions based on specific violations. With the assistance of a skilled California medical license defense attorney, a penalty for these or other alleged violations may be reduced due to evidence of mitigating factors.

Can My Case Be Resolved Without Formal Disciplinary Action by the Medical Board?

After a complaint is filed with the MBC, the formal disciplinary process begins. If an accusation is filed, the potential consequences are dire — up to and including loss of your medical license. However, in some situations, you may be able to resolve your case without formal disciplinary action.

There are two ways that this may occur. First, the Board may perform an investigation and conclude that the matter has been closed. In this situation, the complaint will remain in your file for a period of 3 years. This is not considered disciplinary action.

Second, the Board may issue a citation with or without a fine. This is usually done for technical violations of the law. A citation is not considered disciplinary action, but the complaint will be posted on the Board’s website and will remain in your file for a period of 3 years.

While resolving a complaint without formal disciplinary action is not always possible, working with a knowledgeable California medical board attorney can help provide the best defense. Your lawyer may take a number of actions to help you achieve this outcome, such as presenting evidence to the Board’s investigator or a Deputy Attorney General to refute the allegation or to show why the degree of punishment should be reduced. They may also develop a rehabilitation plan to address underlying issues that led to the alleged violation, perform an independent investigation of the allegations, or put together evidence for mitigation.

Facing a Board Complaint? We Can Help.

After working your whole life to achieve your goals, there are few things scarier or more overwhelming than finding out that a complaint has been filed against you with the Medical Board. The possibility of having your license suspended or even revoked can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety. In these situations, you need a compassionate advocate with the experience to help you achieve the best possible resolution.

At the Law Office of Nicole Irmer, our practice is dedicated to helping professionals who are facing disciplinary action — including physicians and surgeons. We will develop a comprehensive strategy to defend you against a complaint, and will stand by your side throughout the process. To schedule a confidential consultation about a Board investigation or interview, contact us at (619) 237-6310 or email us at any time.