Social media can be a dangerous pastime for medical professionals

You have probably seen the “news” reports in the past two days of a naked Prince Harry having a good time in Las Vegas. These clandestine photos were obviously taken when Prince Harry believed that  he was in a private setting. However, they were secretly released to the press and quickly went viral to the great embarrassment of the Royal Family.

You may wonder what this has to do with physicians and the medical profession? We are now in a world where virtually everyone is carrying a camera/video camera on their phones with the ability to take and upload photos and videos to the internet and to the world in moments.  Behaviour that professionals may have engaged in that they thought was private may now be published to the world.

I have not seen a case yet where the Ohio Medical Board uses video footage of a physician “acting badly” as evidence of impairment or inability to practice medicine, however, in my opinion it is just a matter of time. Physicians need to be aware that the Medical Board can take an action against a physician for their conduct, even if it is not related to the practice of medicine. You do not need to be “falling down drunk” at work to be disciplined by the Medical Board. A photo or video of you clearly impaired at a bar taken at 2am when you are scheduled for surgery at 7am could serve as the basis for discipline.

Social media can also be evidence of a boundary violation with a patient. Do you “friend” patients on Facebook? Do you have photos of yourself and a patient taken in social settings? These could all constitute boundary violations with patients.

Social media can be a wonderful tool to reconnect with old friends and to share photos with family members and friends. But, it can also lead to trouble for professionals if not used wisely. As physicians, your conduct needs to be professional 24/7.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the State Medical Board in general, please feel to contact me at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

Do you really need to wear your scrubs everywhere?

I usually try to write on topics related to the State Medical Board of Ohio and issues or problems that can lead to discipline by the Medical Board. Occasionally, however, I will write on a topic that I just find curious for medical professionals. Today, the issue relates to why many medical professionals wear their scrubs out of the hospital?

I have tried to figure out the whole, scrubs as casual wear issue. It makes sense to see medical professionals around the hospital or on the hospital grounds in their scrubs. I don’t find it unusual to see health care professionals grabbing a quick-lunch in their scrubs. However, the wearing of scrubs has gone way beyond that.   Is the rationale for wearing the scrubs that “I could be called to the hospital at any minute, so I need to be prepared?” This might be it. However, yesterday, I saw someone cutting their grass in their scrubs! I hope they don’t wear that same outfit into the hospital if they are immediately called in for an emergency.

My father was a practicing anesthesiologist for over forty years. He left the house before 6am in a suit and tie and returned late each evening in a suit and tie. I can’t say that I ever saw him in scrubs. He certainly never went to dinner or cut the grass in scrubs.

Now, some may ask, “who cares what medical professionals wear”?  While I agree that we live in a much more casual society than even 20 years ago, I do believe that it decreases the level of professionalism and respect for the profession when medical professionals are constantly wearing their “hospital uniform” outside of the work setting. Just something to consider.

(Wearing scrubs out of the hospital, even to cut your grass will NOT lead to discipline by the State Medical Board of Ohio.)

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the State Medical Board in general, please feel free to contact me at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

Medical Board Investigators Carry Guns Now?

I recently learned that Ohio Medical Board investigators now carry hand guns while on the job. I had heard that the Board was considering allowing their investigators to carry firearms, but recently I learned first hand that an investigator had entered a private medical practice carrying a firearm.  I find this practice intimidating and unnecessary.

Isn’t it intimidating enough when an investigator appears in the medical office or hospital, often unannounced, flashes his credentials and demands to speak with the physician (who is most often seeing patients) and then requests to immediately see and take original patient files? My question is, why must they also carry a firearm?

I went back to the Board’s minutes to review the Board members’ rationale for this decision. In August 2011, the Board reviewed the issue of investigator safety. Of course, I found that this new aggressive move by the Board comes down to the heightened investigation of pain clinics in Ohio. The argument was that pain clinic waiting rooms may be filled with patients, who may be also carrying weapons.  The Board members were advised, on occasion, investigators were confronted with people hanging around the parking lots and “drinking alcohol” and on one occasion an investigator’s car was blocked by another car and they could not leave the parking lot. http://www.med.ohio.gov/pdf/Minutes/2011/08-11minutes.pdf

Based on concern for the safety of the investigators, the Board members approved a policy that would require investigators to undergo a minimum of 40 hours of training at the Ohio Peace Officers Academy and obtain re-certification annually.

I would never want to put the lives or safety of the Medical Board investigators at risk. However, we have a trained police force available in Ohio that investigators can call at any time for assistance. In addition, if the investigator has reason to believe that they are going into a dangerous area, they can always alert the local police in advance and even have an officer accompany them to their appointment. However, to allow an administrative board investigator to carry a firearm after simply 40 hours of training into all medical offices for all appointments is intimidating and unnecessary for the overwhelming majority of investigations conducted.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the State Medical Board in general, please feel free to contact me at beth@collislaw.com or call me at 614-486-3909.

The truth..the whole truth and nothing but the truth

In order for your attorney to provide you with the best possible counsel, you have to tell them the truth .. the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This seems obvious, however, I find clients (or often potential clients) either don’t tell me the truth or fail to tell me the “entire story.”   The only way to effectively work with an attorney is if you tell them the entire story. It is the attorney’s job to work their way through all the information and determine what is important and what is not important information in your case.

Most of my clients are medical professionals. They have been trained to take a patient’s history and physical. They know the importance of getting the entire story from the patient. The approach the physician takes when treating a patient is largely determined by the information obtained directly from the patient.  This is exactly the same scenario in working with an attorney. If you don’t tell the attorney the truth and the ENTIRE story … their ability to help you is limited.

In addition, you should be readily forthcoming with the information for your attorney. You can’t expect your attorney to cross-examine you to get the story out or to make assumptions based on the limited information that you have provided to them.

If you are not comfortable telling your own attorney the entire story, then you need to find another attorney who you are comfortable telling the entire story. In addition, if you fail to tell your attorney your entire story, you run the risk of the information coming out in a deposition or on cross-examination, which could leave your attorney blindsided and unable to assist you.

The truth is always the best policy, especially when working with your own attorney.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the State Medical Board of Ohio in general, please feel free to email me at beth@collislaw.com or call me at 614-486-3909.

Do you have balance in your life?

Doctors …. do you have balance in your life?

In the past, I have written about the three main areas where the State Medical Board in Ohio takes disciplinary actions against physicians: (1) for submitting false information to the Board, (2) for violating a professional boundary with a patient and (3) for issues related to drugs or alcohol (see previous post entitled, “What the Medical Board Really Cares About – Sex, Drugs and Lies”).  Recently, I looked at many of the cases before the Medical Board to determine if there are similar warning signs or red flags that may have been present before a complaint is filed with the Board. What I found is that in many instances the physician had been living a life that is out of balance.

Physicians are trained to look for signs of health (or disease) in their patients, however, too often they do not look for those warning signs in themselves. I often see that the complaint with the Medical Board is just the “final straw” in a year (or years) of a physician living an unbalanced life.  I find that, in many cases, physicians are overworked, overweight, stressed out, and living meaningless and angst filled lives. Many are taking medications to help them sleep and then other medications to help them get through their work days. Many eat out too often, haven’t seen the inside of a gym in ages (or ever), and are living meaningless, spiritless lives.

In terms of boundary violations, they rarely happen  to physicians who are in loving, supportive marriages or relationships. Many times, a physician will find themselves immersed in a Medical Board investigation when they are also in the middle of an ugly divorce or professional partnership that has taken a turn for the worst.

As physicians, you worked hard in school to put yourself in a position where you would have choices. Choices about where you work and what type of work you would like to engage in on a daily basis. Now is the time to exercise those choices and put yourself in a work environment that you find interesting, fulfilling and enjoyable.

I recently read that in tough financial times many people start to step back from their jobs (or job searches) and consider what they can do to make their overall lives better. Many have found that by spending more time with family and friends, exercising more often, and taking “control” of their lives they have found the energy and spirit to be more successful in work or in their job searches. Despite the tough economy, gym memberships were up in 2011 and many more people participated in Weight Watchers and other programs to improve the overall quality of their lives.

Doctors … look at your lives. Are you healthy, happy and fulfilled? If not, now if the time to reclaim your life and the direction of your professional career.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the State Medical Board of Ohio in general, please feel free to email me at beth@collislaw.com or call me at 614-486-3909.

Physician/patient relationship = power imbalance

The State Medical Board of Ohio addressed two cases at its March meeting concerning the physician-patient relationship.  http://www.med.ohio.gov/pdf/Agenda/Agenda%20-2012/03-12agenda.pdf

In one case, the Medical Board suspended the license of a physician for 180 days after a hearing based on the finding that the physician had engaged in a sexual relationship with an indigent patient after providing the patient with “free” medical care and “free” medicine. From the physician’s perspective, she honestly believed that she was providing a medical service to the patient that he could not otherwise afford and that she should not then be “punished” for providing this care.   The physician did not comprehend that having a personal (read: sexual) relationship with the patient violated the physician/patient relationship.  Regardless of the fact that the medical care provided to the patient without charge, a physician-patient relationship was created.  The Board suspended the physician’s license for 180 days for the boundary violation.

In the second case, the State’s attorney offered for Board approval a Consent Agreement  for a physician who had engaged in a sexual relationship with a patient, which proposed to impose no active suspension on the physician’s license. The rationale given by the State’s attorney for no suspension was the fact that the patient was also the corporate attorney for the medical practice and therefore the legal staff did not believe that there was the same imbalance of power between the physician and the patient that usually leads to physician discipline. The state’s attorney argued that the physician and attorney/patient were on a more even footing.  The state’s attorney argued there was no imbalance of power and consequently no suspension should be imposed on the physician’s license.

The Board members did not agree with this argument. In a rarely seen move by the Board, the proposed Consent Agreement, was rejected by the Board.  While this is a very unusual fact pattern, it clearly shows the Board believes strongly about the inherent imbalance of power in a physician-patient relationship.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or about the medical board in general, please feel free to call me at 614-486-3909 or email me at beth@collislaw.com.

Time to renew your Ohio Medical license – not something that should be delegated!

Depending on the first initial of your last name, it might be time to renew your Ohio medical license. This can be done on-line by going to the Medical Board’s website http://www.med.ohio.gov/.  If it is your renewal time, you should have been sent instructions from the Medical Board with your login information to complete your renewal application on-line. Or, you may request that the Board send you a paper renewal form to complete and return to the Board. Whether you choose to renew online or to complete the paper renewal form it is important that you take a few quiet minutes to yourself to complete the form on your own!

Often, physicians think they are too busy to take the time to personally complete the renewal form. I am often told by physicians that they allow the “girl” (their assistant) to complete the renewal forms for them. This is a mistake.  Does your assistant know that you were arrested in college for disorderly conduct or an open container violation?  Does your assistant know of the reckless operation of a vehicle charge that you plead guilty to on the way home from your sister’s wedding? Probably not.

However, by signing the renewal application you are certifying to the Medical Board that all information contained in the application is correct and complete. The Medical Board reviews all original applications for licensure and renewal applications very seriously and will take a disciplinary action against a licensee who fails to provide the Board with correct and complete information.

It is important to read all the questions on the renewal application carefully and to provide the Medical Board with clear, complete, honest and correct answers to their questions. If you do not understand a question, you may call the Medical Board staff and ask  – however, the staff is unable to give legal advice.

If you provide the Medical Board with an incorrect or incomplete answer or if you omit information called for in a question, the Board may take a disciplinary action against you based on a violation of Ohio Revised Code 4731.22(B)(5), “for providing false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading statement … to obtain certification of registration from the Board.”

The Medical Board’s disciplinary guidelines permit the Board to impose a minimum sanction of an indefinite suspension (minimum one year) to a maximum penalty of permanent license revocation if a licensee provides, false information to obtain anything of value.  http://med.ohio.gov/pdf/meddis.pdf

When completing an initial application or submitting your renewal application to the Medical Board, complete the form yourself and take the time to answer all the questions with complete, clear, concise and correct answers.

As always, if you have any questions about this post or another question involving the State Medical Board of Ohio, feel free to email me at Beth@collislaw.com or call me at 614-486-3909.