Hi, my name is Sarah Stark, and I’m an attorney here at Chelle Law in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our firm regularly represents physicians and physician assistants before the Arizona medical board and the Arizona regulatory board of physician assistants. One question we get asked very frequently when a licensee is under investigation with the board, is how long can I expect the complaint and investigative process to last? Unfortunately, there is no simple or uniform answer to this question. The length of the investigation can vary greatly and depends on factors such as the number of allegations, the number of patients involved, the complexity of the allegations, as well as other factors. The investigative process can take anywhere from a few months at a minimum to over a year.
What can a physician expect when someone files a complaint against their license with the Arizona Medical Board?
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 complaint 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 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 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 a complaint 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.
Other Blogs of Interest
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- Is a Letter of Reprimand from the Arizona Medical Board Public?
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, there will be a consent agreement 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.
If the physician declines the formal interview, they decline to sign the consent agreement. They opt to have their matter referred to OAH and assign the case to one of the Board’s litigation councils. They will then proceed with drafting and serving a complaint 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.
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, please feel free to contact our firm.
Is an Advisory Letter from the Arizona Medical Board Public?
What’s an advisory letter from the Arizona Medical Board, and is an advisory letter against a physician a public document? Suppose you are a physician under investigation by the medical board. Once the investigation concludes, the medical board may vote to resolve your matter by issuing an advisory letter. An advisory letter is a non-disciplinary letter. It states that while the activities of the physician may not rise to the level of disciplinary action. Or rise to a violation of the medical practice act. Continuing these activities by the physician could lead to disciplinary action or a potential violation in the future. Again, the letter is issued to resolve the case.
Available Upon Public Records Request
And again, that is a non-disciplinary letter. Now, even though it’s non-disciplinary, we have a statute here in Arizona. A statute allowing the medical board to provide a copy of that letter to the public upon request. So, essentially, they will keep the letter in your file at the Arizona medical board. Should someone from the public make a public records request? According to the statute, the medical board must provide the letter.
Are Advisory Letters in the Public Records?
Now, the benefit of an advisory letter. While it is subject to a public records request, the medical board’s website won’t report it in their recent actions. In addition, it is not reported to the national practitioner data bank as a disciplinary action.
Another thing to keep in mind about the publicity of advisory letters is that neither the national practitioner data bank nor the medical board website reports them. The Arizona State Board then holds open meetings to discuss the issues under investigation, which are brought before the board for a vote on a resolution.
The Arizona medical board’s meetings are subject to open meeting laws. Just like every other regulatory board here in this state. Everything discussed in the board meeting schedule, except for confidential matters in the executive session, is available to the public. So let’s say a letter of advice is used to resolve your case. In that case, they will probably talk about it at the public medical board meeting of the Arizona board. Additionally, the agenda and those minutes are available on the board’s website.
But again, that is something that you must know where to look to find those minutes. So, as a general matter, the number of places that the public can find an advisory letter is limited. Particularly compared to the reporting of disciplinary action against the physician’s license.
Need More Information?
Should you have any additional questions about this topic. Or should you find yourself under investigation by the board, please do not hesitate to give us a call.
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