Importance of Legal Counsel in Disciplinary Actions Initiated Against Physicians and Other Healthcare Practitioners

Posted on Professional Licensure Investigations by Parker Eastin

In order to practice medicine in the state of Florida, a physician must be licensed by either the Florida Board of Medicine or the Florida Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Each physician licensed by one of these Boards is subject to disciplinary oversight that is regulated by the state of Florida through the Florida Department of Health. Potential disciplinary actions that may be brought against physicians include but are not limited to the following: medical malpractice or substandard care, inappropriate prescribing of controlled substances, unprofessional or sexual misconduct, substance abuse, prescription fraud, billing issues, improper record keeping, and Medicare/Medicaid fraud, among many others.  After a complaint is filed (whether internally generated or by a third-party), an investigation will be initiated, and an investigator will be assigned to the matter.  It is imperative that the subject physician contact legal counsel as soon as possible once receiving notice of the investigation to evaluate the nature of the allegations involved and begin preparing an appropriate initial response on the physician’s behalf. This is true regardless of the physician’s opinions concerning the merits of the complaint.  The physician should also request to see a copy of the investigative file in the matter.

Once the Department’s investigation is complete, a copy of the investigative file (which could include documentation, witness statements, etc.) will be provided to the phyician for review and rebuttal.  Once that response is submitted, the investigator will submit the entire package of materials to what is known as a probable cause panel. This panel will then decide whether it wants to (1) determine that there is a lack of probable cause and direct the matter to be closed; (2) issue a non-disciplinary letter of concern; or (3) determine that the investigative file contains sufficient evidence of probable cause to move forward to the next step in the process, which is the filing of an administrative complaint. It is at this point that the matter will become part of the public record.

Once an administrative complaint is filed, the physician may (1) attempt to negotiate a settlement agreement (subject to the Board’s review and approval); (2) elect to not dispute the facts and submit the matter to the Board for an informal hearing where the physician can point to mitigating factors; (3) demand a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge with the Department of Administrative Hearings and litigate the facts, much akin to a civil trial on the merits; or (4) relinquish the license.  Irrespective of which path a disciplinary action may take, these decisions are critical, and it is essential to retain competent legal counsel as soon as you suspect and/or become aware of a complaint against you, as it has been briefly discussed above how impactful each step of the process may be to your career.

The attorneys at Nicholson & Eastin regularly represent physicians and other medical professionals before the Florida Department of Health and the professional licensing boards. If you become the subject of a disciplinary action, please do not hesitate to contact us to evaluate your case.