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Doctors and patients share what is known in law as a fiduciary relationship — a type of relationship in which one party puts their trust and confidence in the other and relies upon the other to act in their best interests. Given the extraordinary level of trust patients have in their doctors to make potentially life and death decisions for them, they are required to carry a license to practice, and their conduct is governed by a strict code of ethics. If a doctor breaches that code of ethics — or even is accused of breaching it — the doctor’s license to practice may be in jeopardy. Virginia doctors who are facing threats to their licenses due to disciplinary investigations would be well-served by seeking the counsel of a Norfolk medical license defense attorney

Common Reasons Why Doctors Face Disciplinary Proceedings

The medical profession requires doctors to make difficult decisions for patients, some of which involve choosing the least bad option under the patient’s circumstances. As a result, allegations of fraud, neglect, incompetence, and even medical malpractice are common when the patient does not get the exact outcome they hoped for (or believe they were promised). 

Some of the most common allegations of doctor misconduct include: 

  • Poor bedside manner
  • Failure to adhere to the standard of care for the doctor’s specialty 
  • Under- or over-prescription of medication 
  • Failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis 
  • Failure to obtain informed consent
  • Lack of communication 
  • Unforeseen injuries or complications 
  • Failure to follow up 
  • Failure to consult the patient’s health record 
  • Practicing under the influence of drugs or alcohol 
  • Various workplace interactions with coworkers

While some of these allegations are more serious than others, the Virginia Board of Medicine takes all complaints against doctors seriously, as they could indicate a pattern of substandard care and compromise the integrity of the profession. That’s why you should consider speaking to a Norfolk medical license defense attorney if you have received a complaint, no matter how meritless you think it might be. 

The Complaint and Investigation Process

The professional disciplinary process for doctors often begins when someone submits a complaint to DHP regarding the practitioner at issue. Any member of the public may submit a complaint, but they typically are submitted by patients/ex-patients or other members of the healthcare profession. DHP is required by law to share details of the complaint with the person against whom the complaint has been made (known as the “respondent” in DHP adjudicatory proceedings). A Norfolk medical license defense attorney can assist you at each stage of the process. 

Once DHP receives a complaint, the investigation and adjudication process generally proceeds as follows: 


DHP’s Enforcement Division conducts an initial investigation by interviewing potential witnesses (including the person who submitted the initial report) and obtaining relevant evidence. 

Probable Cause Determination 

Once the investigator submits a report to the appropriate board, it reviews the report to determine whether probable cause exists to charge the licensee. If probable cause is found, the Board will issue a notice of informal conference (more below). If it is not found, the person who made the complaint and the respondent will be notified. 

Summary and Mandatory Suspensions 

DHP prioritizes complaints that may indicate a substantial danger to public health and safety. If the board is convinced that such allegations are meritorious, it may meet summarily and immediately suspend the respondent’s license. If the board votes to summarily suspend a license, it must institute proceedings for a formal hearing (more below). 

Consent Orders

In some cases, the respondent and the board may meet and agree to settle a case without proceeding to the informal conference or formal hearing stage. A respondent may choose this option by admitting to the allegation or where the facts are so clear that mounting a defense would be unwarranted. 

Confidential Consent Agreements

Confidential consent agreements are similar to consent orders. The two main differences are that: 

  • The respondent engaged in only minor, unintentional conduct
  • A confidential consent agreement is not a disciplinary case, thereby remaining confidential

Advisory Letters

In cases where the board has concerns about the respondent’s practice but their conduct does not rise to the level of a professional conduct violation, it may issue an advisory letter informing the respondent that the case is being closed. The letter will also contain suggestions for the respondent to examine certain elements of their practice. 

Informal Conference 

Informal conferences are where most disciplinary issues are resolved. At the conference, the respondent is given all information on which the conference committee may rely in making a decision and an opportunity to respond to it. If the committee finds that the respondent committed a violation of law or regulation, it may: 

  • Place the respondent on probation
  • Reprimand the respondent
  • Modify a previous order
  • Impose a monetary penalty

If the conference committee determines that the suspension or revocation is justified, it must refer the matter to the full board for a formal hearing.  

Formal Hearing

Formal hearings are quasi-judicial proceedings that are conducted by a hearing officer, a panel of the board, or the full board. All parties may call witnesses and submit evidence during the hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the decision of the board will be announced, and a final order will be served on the respondent. 

Judicial Review

If the respondent is unsatisfied with the outcome of the formal hearing, they may appeal the board’s decision to a circuit court of appeal. The circuit court may affirm the board’s decision, suspend it, or set it aside and remand it back to the board for further proceedings. The respondent may then appeal the circuit court’s decision to the Supreme Court of Virginia. 

Contact a Norfolk Medical License Defense Attorney for Representation at Your Informal Conference or Formal Hearing 

You can maximize your chances of retaining your license and upholding your professional reputation by hiring counsel who can effectively advocate for your interests during professional disciplinary investigations. To get started, please contact a Norfolk medical license defense attorney at Pierce / Jewett by calling 757-304-6655 or using our online contact form.