The medical profession has strict rules of professional conduct, making it one of the most highly regulated professions in existence. Minor complaints may result, at a minimum, in a time-consuming disruption to the doctor’s practice. But serious complaints can result in the suspension or revocation of a doctor’s license to practice. Doctors in Virginia who are facing disciplinary investigations or procedures should enlist the help of a Richmond medical license defense attorney to advocate for their interests before the medical board.
The Virginia Department of Health Professions and Governing Law
The medical profession in Virginia is regulated by the Virginia Board of Medicine, which falls under the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP). The DHP also regulates nurses, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists, optometrists, and physical therapists, among other healthcare providers. DHP is tasked with the following functions:
- Issuing licenses, registrations, certifications, and permits
- Investigating complaints of possible violations of laws and regulations
- Inspecting facilities for compliance with laws and regulations
- Conducting studies and making recommendations regarding the regulation of health care professionals and providing information to the public
Common Complaints Against Doctors
There are a multitude of workplace and patient interactions that, unfortunately, may give rise to a Virginia Board of Medicine Complaint, and complaints to the Virginia Board of Medicine might come from the employer or from the patient. Some of the more common complaints against doctors include:
- Scheduling difficulties and communication issues
- Disclosure of confidential patient information
- Prescription of a medication the patient was allergic to
- Failure to give sufficient weight to the patient’s reported symptoms
- Race, gender, age, or sexual orientation discrimination
- Failure to obtain informed consent
- Withholding information from the patient
- Failure to examine the patient’s medical history
- Failure to refer to a specialist
- Missed or delayed diagnosis
- Inadequate record keeping
- Various workplace behaviors
If you have been accused of any of these behaviors or others, the medical board will initiate an investigation and potential disciplinary proceedings. The best way to maximize your chances of success in such proceedings is to speak to a Richmond medical license defense attorney.
How Medical Board Investigations Work
DHP’s Enforcement Division conducts an initial investigation by interviewing potential witnesses and reviewing documents relevant to the investigation. Due to the large number of complaints DHP receives, it prioritizes those that indicate a threat to public health or safety. If a complaint alleges unlicensed practice, it may refer the matter to the Commonwealth’s Attorney as a criminal matter.
Determining Probable Cause
After investigating the complaint, DHP submits a report to the relevant board (of which there are 14 within DHP’s purview). The board will then review the report, analyze it in light of the applicable laws, regulations, and rules of professional conduct, and make a determination as to whether there is probable cause to bring a charge against the respondent.
Summary and Mandatory Suspensions
If a complaint alleges a violation that could pose a threat to public health and safety, the board may meet and immediately suspend the respondent’s license. It may also summarily suspend a license when the respondent:
- Has been convicted of a felony
- Had their license revoked or suspended in another jurisdiction
- Has been adjudged legally incompetent
- Pays for a license with a dishonored check
Consent Orders and Confidential Consent Agreements
At any time prior to an informal conference or formal hearing, the respondent may meet with the board and agree to settle a matter through an agreement. A consent order typically contains findings of fact, conclusions of law, sanctions, and a waiver of rights to proceedings. The respondent may then agree to the terms of the settlement offered. If the board and the respondent agree that the respondent engaged in minor, unintentional misconduct, they may enter into a confidential consent agreement. Confidential consent agreements are not considered disciplinary proceedings but may be considered by the board in future proceedings.
The board may determine in some cases that the respondent’s conduct is concerning but choose not to institute disciplinary actions. In those cases, the board issues a letter to the respondent warning them of their concerns and offering guidance as to how to improve their practice in light of the relevant laws and regulations.
At the informal conference, a special conference committee meets with the respondent to discuss the allegations against them. The respondent will receive all of the evidence supporting the specific accusations alleged by the board and be given an opportunity to respond to them. The source of the information that led to the investigation (i.e., the complainant) may also attend the informal conference. Most investigations terminate at the informal conference stage.
Formal hearings are similar to trials in that they are open to the public and the parties may present witnesses and submit evidence for consideration. At the conclusion of the hearing, the board will decide whether the respondent has violated a law or regulation and, if so, what the disciplinary action will be. The respondent may then appeal the board’s decision to a civil court. A Richmond medical license defense attorney can attend the formal hearing and advocate on your behalf.
Respondents who receive adverse decisions at the formal hearing stage may then appeal their cases to a circuit court of appeal, which may uphold the decision, suspend it, or overturn it and send it back to the board for renewed consideration. If the respondent is still dissatisfied with the outcome of the circuit court decision, they may appeal again to the Supreme Court of Virginia — the final phase of the appeals process.
Potential Outcomes of Medical Board Investigations
The Virginia Board of Medicine has wide latitude when it comes to imposing sanctions for violations of law or policy. Those sanctions include:
- Reprimanding the respondent
- Placing the respondent’s license on probation
- Levying fines on the respondent
- Suspending the respondent’s license
- Revoking the respondent’s license
The board may reprimand, levy fines, or place the respondent’s license on probation at the informal hearing stage or earlier; however, licenses may only be suspended or revoked through a formal hearing.
Protect Your Medical License With Help From a Richmond Medical License Defense Attorney
The medical board is not on your side during disciplinary proceedings, but your attorney will be. For more information about protecting your medical license, please contact a Richmond medical license defense attorney at Pierce / McCoy by calling 804-502-2320 or using our online contact form.