How are decisions made by the State Medical Board of Ohio

I am often asked by clients, “Who makes the final determination as to the sanction that will be imposed against a physician at the State Medical Board of Ohio?”  In theory, this is a simple answer. The Board Members review all the evidence in the case and a vote of six members will result in a sanction against a physician. Alternatively, if the case does not proceed to a hearing, two members of the Board, the Board Secretary and Supervising Member review the evidence and offer terms for a settlement in lieu of proceeding to a hearing.

To make the appropriate determination as to the sanction that should be imposed, the Medical Board has Disciplinary Guidelines, which are posted on the Board’s website (http://www.med.ohio.gov/pdf/meddis.pdf) that outline appropriate sanctions for various violations of the Medical Board’s laws and rules.

In addition, the Medical Board is to review similar prior Board actions and make a determination that is consistent with similar sanctions that have been imposed in similar cases in the past. This is called following precedence.

However, this is all “In Theory”.  What we have seen in the past year is that the Medical Board has been reluctant to follow the disciplinary guidelines (they are advisory only, not mandatory) and the Board has been unwilling to follow prior Board decisions in imposing discipline against physicians.

This change can be based on a variety of factors. First, each year as Board vacancies open up, the Governor is charged with appointing new Board members. New members often come to the Board and look at cases differently than former Board panels.  This change can be refreshing as a shakeup in the Board makeup can bring fresh perspectives to the Board. However, it also leads to inconsistent results, and leaves members of the medical community unaware of how they might be sanctioned if they do violate a Board law or rule.

Recently, we have seen that if the case before the Board does not affect the physician’s medical practice (i.e. a conviction unrelated to medicine) that the Board members have been reluctant to sanction the physician. On the opposite end, if the case involves prescribing of pain medications or even minor violations of a prior Board sanction, the Board has been very punitive.

In this time of uncertainly, I still believe that you put your client in the best position before the Board if you provide the Board Members with as much information through the settlement or hearing process as possible. Board Members often complain that they do not have enough information about the physician to make a reasoned decision about their case. Therefore, I have found that while the Disciplinary Guidelines and prior case actions can be helpful in determining how the Board might proceed in any case, a recommended way to handle any case is to put as much information about the physician and their facts and circumstances about their case before the Board.  This might mean taking more cases to hearing than the Board has seen in recent years.  However, until the Board settles into a rhythm of making consistent decisions on similar cases, this might be the only way to effectively represent the client before the Board.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or the State Medical Board of Ohio in general, please feel free to contact one of the attorneys at Collis, Smiles and Collis at 614-486-3909, check out our website for more information at www.collislaw.com or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

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