I am often asked by physicians when is the best time to hire an attorney if they are being investigated by the State Medical Board of Ohio. The short answer is, the sooner the better.
The Medical Board is a governmental body that is established to regulate the practice of medicine in Ohio. As a regulatory agency, the Medical Board is required to investigate all complaints that are received related to physicians.
The Medical Board will assign an investigator to collect initial information related to the complaint. The investigator may request to meet with the physician to ask questions about the complaint. The Medical Board has the authority to subpoena medical records, to send the physician Interrogatory questions (questions the physician must respond to under oath), and may order the physician to a Deposition at the Medical Board office.
Any and all information submitted to the Medical Board or to the Medical Board’s investigator may be used as evidence to sanction a physician. Occasionally, physicians will speak with investigators, respond to Interrogatory questions, and even attend a Deposition without legal counsel. Many physicians believe that if they have “nothing to hide” they see no reason to retain an attorney. This is often a mistake.
The value of hiring experience legal counsel BEFORE you provide any information to the Medical Board is to help guide the physician through the investigative process, to help the physician understand all questions that are asked, and to assist the physician to provide information only as to what is being asked (and not irrelevant information and/or emotional or argumentative commentary).
Even if the physician believes the investigation is meritless, they still have a duty to cooperate in the investigation. The Board is required to investigate all complaints and has the authority and ability to close meritless complaints. However, by failing to provide clear, accurate, and timely responses to the Medical Board, the physician can exacerbate and/or extend the investigation. By arguing with investigators or providing non-responsive or argumentative replies to the Medical Board, the physician runs the risk of the investigator continuing the investigation or including in their investigation information which could have a negative impact for the physician.
The Board has no time limit to complete an investigation and often investigations can drag out for years.
In addition, once the physician responds to questions from the Medical Board, it is nearly impossible to “change your story”. Therefore, prior to responding to a Medical Board investigation, the physician should know and understand the law as it relates to the questions they are being asked. If the physician is not in compliance with the law, they should have a plan in place as to HOW they will come into compliance. Therefore, the sooner the physician retains experienced legal counsel, the more assistance legal counsel can provide.
Generally speaking, if the physician chooses to meet with the Medical Board investigator, respond to Interrogatory questions, and/or attend a Deposition without legal counsel, there is far less that legal counsel can do to assist the physician if the Medical Board institutes a disciplinary action.
I have also been asked if retaining legal counsel makes the physician look “defensive”. In my experience, the Medical Board respects the assistance of experienced legal counsel and understands that the entire investigative process is smoother when the physician is represented and informed.
As always, if you have any questions about the State Medical Board of Ohio in general or this blog post, please contact me at Beth@collislaw.com, check our firm website at http://www.collislaw.com or call to speak with one of the attorneys at the Collis Law Group, LLC at 614-486-3909.