Hi, my name is Sarah Stark, and I’m an attorney here at Chelle Law in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our firm regularly provides representation to physicians and physician assistants before the Arizona Medical Board and the Arizona Board of Physician Assistants. One question we get asked sometimes is whether the boards are allowed to conceal the identity of a complainant to the licensee against whom they file the complaint.
Anonymous Complaints in Arizona
Under Arizona law, the boards can enter into written agreements with the complainants when they file a complaint that conceals their identity from the licensee. The complainants must indicate at the complaint filing that they wish to remain anonymous. The complaints are sent out to the licensees fairly quickly after complainants file them.
Other Blogs of Interest
- When Do Doctors Report Criminal Charges to the Arizona Medical Board? | Reporting Charges
- What is the Physician Health Program with the Arizona Medical Board?
- Can the Arizona Medical Board Conceal the Identity of a Complainant? | Health and Safety Complaints
Can You Sue Someone for Filing a False Complaint With the Arizona Medical Board?
Hi, my name is Robert Chelle with Chelle Law. My firm represents physicians before the Arizona medical board and the osteopathic board. We’ve been representing healthcare providers in Arizona for over a decade now. And one thing that comes up semi-frequently is the question. Can you sue someone for filing a false board medical complaint in Arizona? Pretty simple question. The answer is yes, but there are some caveats we will go over right now. Every board has a statute. They’re in the Arizona revised statutes, which lay the groundwork for what the board can and can’t do. In the Arizona medical board’s statute, there’s a section. I’m going to read it, which says any person or entity that reports or provides information to the board in good faith. That person is not subject to an action for civil damages.
Arizona Medical Board
In summary, anyone who files a board complaint in good faith can’t be sued for civil damages. The most important part of that section is good faith. What is good faith? This means if someone honestly believes that the physician committed misconduct, did something illegal, or violated the statute. They’re immune from civil damages. The only way that a physician could sue someone for filing a board complaint is if it was false and in bad faith. People can file a good faith medical complaint with bad intentions. You could have a patient who wants to stick it to the doctor, a competitor physician who’s doing the same, or an employer who is somehow upset about their relationship terminating.
Board of License Complaint Public Information
If any of those people filed a good faith argument, they believed that whatever the physician did could violate the statute. They’d be immune from a civil lawsuit. If you sue the person, you must prove they acted in bad faith. They knew that what they were alleging was false. Potentially they made up falsehoods and used that as a basis for a medical complaint. There was a case in the mid-two thousand. That kind of worked its way up to the court of appeals in Arizona. And basically, it was one physician who filed a board complaint against a competitor physician. They’re in the same specialty, fighting for patients in the same area, and alleged some things. And the physician who had the medical complaint. Filed against him and filed a lawsuit against the other doctor. They stated that the other party did not submit the complaint in good faith.
Are There Any Mistakes Physicians Make?
And therefore, he suffered some damage. I’m just going to read what the counts of that lawsuit are. Right? Some counts for the lawsuit are:
- The alleged defamation
- False light invasion of privacy
- Wrongful institution
- Maintenance of an administrative proceeding
- Intentional interference with prospective contractual to business relationships
- Injurious falsehood
What the court held, though, was the first count. Was the medical complaint filed in good faith or not? And the court said, yes, it was. They’re saying even if some of the things alleged by the person who filed the complaint were untrue. They believed they were true. They made at least a minimum amount of verification of the facts. And therefore, the other party filed the complaint in good faith. And so the physician who filed the complaint against him couldn’t recover any damages.
We have a case currently with the Arizona medical board. We’re representing a client. I won’t get into the details of it. However, I can give broad strokes. In this case, a patient alleged that our client gave them on a certain date, a specific procedure. Then, there was a negative outcome during the procedure, after a review of the public records. Our client never saw the patient on the alleged date. Never even provided the procedure alleged by the patient. And then, obviously, the bad outcome didn’t occur either. So, did that person file a complaint in bad faith? Well, we believe, yes. As I stated before, when looking at whether a complaint is filed in good or bad faith. Do you need to look at whether the person who filed the complaint attempted to verify any of the information?
Legal Medical Board Complaints
In this case, obviously, no. What could someone do to verify the information? They could call the office and verify when they saw the physician. Request the medical public records, review those, and talk to the people involved. A minimum base amount of effort needs to be given to verify allegations. And if the complainant, the person who files a complaint, doesn’t do any of that. Then that certainly allows whoever had the medical complaint filed against them to argue that it was filed in bad faith.
This is a fairly nuanced topic. In summary, can you sue someone for filing a false board complaint in Arizona? The answer is yes, you can, under certain circumstances. But it’s an interesting topic to discuss. As I stated, my firm Chelle Law represents physicians before the Arizona medical board and osteopath boards. If you have any questions, we’re certainly happy to answer them. Just give us a call, the number is listed below in the description, or you can visit us on our website, Chelle law.com, C H E L L E law.com. Hopefully, this is informative. Please comment if you have suggestions for other topics you want me to discuss. I’ll be happy to do that. So anyway, thanks for listening, and take care.
What Is the Most Common Medical Board Complaint? | Medical Boards
Instead of one, I think there’s probably a group of most common medical board complaints, and we’ll go through those. The first one is clinical issues. Suppose there’s a deviation from the standard of care. In that case, Any of the following could send that complaint to the board: the employer, a colleague, the patient, and a patient’s family member. All those people could then file a complaint with the medical board alleging a clinical concern. Most boards have criminal reporting requirements. Some boards require a reported charge from a physician. In contrast, other boards require the physician to report a conviction. Still, a complaint can start from any criminal conduct by the physician.
Common-Place: Behavioral Medical Board Complaints
Another way would be behavioral concerns. If there was some fight amongst the med staff or the likes at the hospital. Maybe the physician was removed from the med staff or revoked other privileges. Suppose it’s just some kind of butting heads that continues to happen consistently. In that case, it’s not uncommon for an organization to report the physician for behavioral concerns. In that case, normally, most boards will then require the physician to get a psychological evaluation to rule out any, I guess, larger issues. And then, the recommendations from that psychologist or psychiatrist and in most medical boards would be incorporated and discussed at the board meeting. Substance abuse issues are another huge reason for a medical board complaint to be open.
The employer will normally file a medical complaint if a physician is impaired at work. It could be, once again, a patient, a family member, or a colleague. Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, prescription drug, or if the physician has strange prescriptive practices. Most states have a database that lists all the physicians who prescribe scheduled drugs. And, prescribing to yourself, which does happen, or a close family member, which does happen, is a huge red flag.
Medical Board Database Flagging
Suppose they were to run a database query and see that the physician was prescribing to a family member or himself. That would raise red flags, and someone would issue a medical complaint against the physician. In my mind, I break it into two main groups.
You’ve got the clinical side and the behavioral side. As I said, the clinical staff is, did something go wrong? Clinically, was there a deviation from standard care? Maybe a peer review initiated, something like that. And then the second one in the behavioral category. It’s all the other things I listed, like substance abuse and clashes at work. I guess boundary violations are another big one. If there’s a sexual relationship between a doctor and a patient, that can cause concern for any medical board. Most boards will list when/if a physician can start a relationship with the patient. But as you know, if a physician starts a romantic relationship with a patient. Most of the time, it doesn’t end well. And now, with technology and text messages, social media, and direct messages. There’s almost always a record between the physician and the patient regarding their relationship.
And it’s difficult to defend when it’s in black and white writing. So, those are the common reasons a physician could file a complaint with the medical board. It ranges, but I know when I speak to most people. They always associate it with clinical issues, which goes well beyond that.
Types of Arizona Medical Board Practice Restrictions | Licenses and Rules
What practice restrictions can the Arizona Medical Board impose on a physician? What are some common types of practice restrictions? And how can we assist you if you find yourself in a situation where the Arizona medical board asks you to sign a practice restriction?
Interim Practice Restriction
When a physician is under investigation by the Arizona medical board, the Arizona medical board may reach out to the physician and ask them to sign an interim practice restriction. And essentially, that means they want to restrict all or part of the physician’s practice during the investigation into the allegations of unprofessional conduct.
In other words, depending on the nature and severity of allegations and the number of complaints that may be before the board. Board staff may feel it’s appropriate to limit or fully restrict the physician’s practice of medicine. At the same time, they determine whether there is any veracity to the allegations that have been made. So, a practice restriction is commonly done during the investigation before the board can thoroughly investigate and bring the case to a complete resolution. This is why it’s called an interim practice restriction. And again, the temporary practice restrictions can vary.
What Happens to a Physician Under State Restriction?
We sometimes see a complete restriction on a physician’s ability to practice medicine. And then sometimes we see restrictions on certain activities. Again, it doesn’t prevent them from practicing medicine, but may prevent them from doing certain things or maybe require certain things, some sort of a monitor chaperone during their practice, depending on the type, nature, severity, and a number of allegations against the physician. There is also an opportunity or possibility for a practice restriction to appear in a final consent agreement for probation.
And this is a disciplinary action against the physician’s license. It is issued at the end of an investigation as the case resolution. And typically, suppose the board and board staff has found that the physicians’ activities or the allegations contained in the Medical Board complaint rise to a level of violating the Arizona medical practice act. In that case, they may impose discipline on the physician in the form of probation. And as part of the probation, there may also be a practice restriction like what you would see in the interim practice restrictions during the investigation.
What Should You Do if You Are Under Investigation by the Arizona Medical Board?
So, typically, that will not be a complete ban on the physician’s practice because, in that case, they would revoke the license, allow the surrender of the license, or perhaps suspend the license for a period. But there are practice restrictions that can appear in final probationary orders to limit certain activities of the physician or require additional reporting or oversight of specific activities by a physician. If you are a physician here in Arizona and find yourself under investigation by the Arizona medical board, you have been offered a practice restriction. If you need advice on what to do or have general questions, please do not hesitate to reach out.
Can a Physician Request a Hearing with the Arizona Medical Board?
I wanted to briefly discuss today the formal hearing process after the conclusion of a medical board investigation. What does that mean? What are your options regarding requesting a formal hearing? After an investigation by medical board staff into allegations of unprofessional conduct, board staff will reach out to the physician. And let them know that the matter has closed.
In many cases, a consent agreement will be offered for some discipline the physician can sign at that point. To resolve the matter. So, this will be a disciplinary consent agreement for a term of probation. With various stipulations and requirements for the physician to comply with.
Medical Board Interview
Of course, it can also offer non-disciplinary outcomes at the end of an investigation. It could be an advisory letter or perhaps a full dismissal of the matter. Still, those are not outcomes that would trigger the physician’s right to proceed to a formal hearing. So, suppose they present the physician with an option to sign a disciplinary consent agreement. In that case, there will also be the option and the consent agreement to appear before the Arizona medical board. It’s called a formal interview. In place of a formal interview, the physician can ask that board staff refer the case to the OAH. Or Office of Administrative Hearings for a formal evidentiary hearing on the allegations.
If a physician opts to appear before the Board for a formal interview, it’s a truncated approach to resolving the matter. And it’s shortened. It can result in a similar consent agreement that the Board offered initially. It could always result in a better outcome for the physician, but it could also result in a worse outcome.
The Doctor Can Respond to Allegations in Writing
Suppose the physician declines the formal interview, they decline to sign the consent agreement. They opt to have their matter referred to OAH instead. They assign the case to one of the Board’s litigation councils. Then they will then proceed with drafting and serving the medical complaints and notice of hearing. Informing the physician of formal allegations that everyone will hear at the hearing. And its date and time. They will allow the physician to respond to the allegations in writing. With the option of a formal hearing, our statutes here in Arizona also enable a physician to elect to participate. They can partake in an informal settlement conference with board staff and their attorney before attending the hearings.
Arizona Board Attorneys that Can Help
So, suppose the physician does elect to pursue a formal hearing as an option in their case. In that case, they can also ask that board staff and attorneys hold an informal settlement conference. That is to resolve the matter instead of going forward with that formal hearing.
If you are a physician here in Arizona, you’re under investigation by the Arizona medical board. The investigation has concluded. And now, you must decide which option to choose and how that may affect your license and practice. If this is you and you need more information and guidance moving forward, please feel free to contact our firm.
How Long Does an Arizona Medical Board Investigation Take?
What can a physician expect when someone files a complaint against their license with the Arizona Medical Board? And how long does it typically take for that several medical complaints process to resolve? Unfortunately, like with many things in the law, the answer is it depends. There are a variety of factors that can affect the length of the investigation. For example, if there are several medical complaints against the physician, the allegations are of substance abuse or sexual. And the Board feels that they need additional information in the form of an evaluation. That can certainly prolong the course of the investigation while the physician undergoes some evaluation.
If the Physician Accepts the Consent Agreement
In addition, if the case is resolved and the Board offers the physician a consent agreement to resolve the matter. Or a non-disciplinary outcome such as a dismissal or an advisory letter. That could shorten the process if the physician, for example, chooses to accept the consent agreement or the advisory letter. And, of course, accept the dismissal as the case’s outcome.
However, suppose the board staff concludes its investigation into the matter and perhaps offers the physician a disciplinary consent agreement. In that case, the physician can reject that consent agreement and proceed to a formal interview before the Board. Or ask that the board staff refer the matter to the office of administrative hearings for a formal hearing. If the physician chooses to proceed with a formal interview or hearing. This can delay the resolution of the process because that takes more time. Typically, the Arizona medical board sends out letters to the physicians at the beginning of an investigation. They indicate that the medical complaint investigation process normally takes about six months.
In our experience, we find that the investigations typically take closer to a year. So, suppose you are under investigation, or you receive a notification of several medical complaints against you. In that case, it’s essential to manage your expectations. And know that it could be several months and over a year before the matter fully resolves. Also, again, that timeline can vary based on many of the factors I have discussed today. Suppose you are a physician and have found yourself under investigation by the Arizona medical board. If you feel like you need additional information or us to help guide you through the process. Please do not hesitate to reach out.
What is a Summary Suspension by the Arizona Medical Board? | License Suspension
What is a summary suspension for a physician licensed with the Arizona Medical Board? What does that process look like? And what can a physician expect if they find themselves in a proceeding to suspend their license summarily?
To Protect Public Health, Safety, and Welfare
A summary suspension is an emergency action the Arizona Medical Board takes if they believe that the health, safety, and welfare of the public imperatively requires emergency action against a physician’s license to restrict all or some of their practice. So, this is an action the board takes before the allegations of unprofessional conduct are thoroughly investigated. The physician has had an opportunity for a formal interview or hearing on the allegations.
Suppose the board feels the allegations are serious enough. So severe that they cannot put off action against the license until the investigation has concluded. In that case, they can summarily suspend. If they believe that harm could come to the public while board staff is completing their investigation into the allegations. This can be an action the board staff recommends to the board to restrict the physician’s ability to practice completely. It could be an action the board staff takes. Should a physician refuse to sign an interim practice restriction during the investigation?
Suppose the board staff receives a medical complaint with serious allegations. If they’re concerned about the physician’s ability to practice, then they can offer an interim practice restriction. To prohibit or limit some of that physician’s practice activities while they gather more information about the allegations.
Say a physician refuses to sign an interim practice restriction offered by board staff during the investigation. The board staff’s recourse at that point is to proceed with a summary suspension of the physician’s license. This again is asking the board to suspend and restrict the physician’s ability to practice pending a formal administrative hearing into the allegations.
Right by Statute
Suppose the board votes to summarily suspend a physician’s license and finds that emergency action is required to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. The physician has a right by statute to have an administrative hearing held on the allegations. And within 60 days of the summary suspension. At that point, should the board vote to summarily suspend the physician’s license? They would refer the matter to the office of administrative hearings for a full evidentiary hearing.
By statute, that hearing must be held within 60 days of the summary suspension by the board. Should you find yourself under investigation by the Arizona Medical Board. Or in the process of summary suspension proceedings or a subsequent formal hearing after you’ve been summarily suspended. Please do not hesitate to contact our firm if you need advice or assistance.
Should an Arizona Physician Ever Surrender Their License?
Should you surrender your license if you have found yourself under investigation by the Arizona medical board? Voluntary surrender is when a physician chooses to give up their license and cease practicing medicine in Arizona to resolve or conclude an open investigation with the board into allegations of unprofessional conduct. And it’s significant because a voluntary surrender is a disciplinary action against the physician’s license; therefore, it is reportable. That means that once the physician surrenders their license, the board will go through its normal reporting process and report the voluntary surrender to the national practitioner data bank. It will also post a record of the voluntary surrender on the board website.
Surrendering the Physicians License Voluntarily: The Consent Agreement
When physicians choose to surrender their license voluntarily, it is usually in the form of a consent agreement for voluntary surrender. The consent agreement will include factual findings, legal conclusions, and a surrender order. The findings will be made public on the websites of the Arizona Medical Board and the National Practitioner Data Bank, making them significant. As a result, it ensures that the results of significant discoveries are included in your voluntary surrender document. If you go down that road, it’s only fair that you have a say in what’s said to the extent that the board staff will let you change the conclusions.
What Should You Consider When Surrendering Your License Voluntarily?
It should also consider that a voluntary surrender is something that can affect, obviously, licenses in other states. So, if you are under investigation in Arizona, maybe you hold licenses in several other states. You’ve had a medical complaint filed against you with the board, and you think it’s easier to surrender your Arizona license. So you don’t have to deal with going through the investigative process. That is one crucial consideration because if you choose to submit your license here in Arizona, that could also impact the other states where you hold a medical licenses.
Another thing about a voluntary surrender is that it is usable as a means for the office of the inspector general to place you on an exclusion list. That prohibits you from billing a federal insurance program. A voluntary surrender revocation or suspension of a state license is grounds for what the OIG calls a permissive exclusion. Voluntary surrender of your medical license could also trigger the OIG to place you on that exclusion list. There are a lot of factors to consider if you are considering surrendering a license. It is a serious decision that may result in disciplinary action against a physician’s medical license. It affects where it is reported, the medical licenses of other states, and other effects such as being reported to the OIG and having consequences.
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