Posted April 28, 2002
It takes just one dissatisfied patient to endanger your reputation and ability to practice or attract potential patients. Regardless of how unwarranted or inaccurate a patient’s complaint against a particular dentist may be, each and every investigation conducted by the Board of Dental Examiners must be taken very seriously, as the ramifications may be grave. In these investigations, it is important to be familiar with the process and your rights.
Every sanction imposed by the Board of Dental Examiners is posted on HIPDB, Healthcare Integrity Protection Database. This database lists all sanctions imposed against healthcare providers, including dentists, and is available for many businesses, including insurance companies and health care corporations to discover. Given the recent increase in computer literacy, it is more important than ever to ensure that any complaint against your license is thoroughly defended.
A dentist runs the risk of being reported to the Board of Dental Examiners with every patient he sees. If a patient does in fact make a complaint to the Board, the Board first examines the alleged facts to determine whether the Dental Practice Act may have been violated. If the Board determines, based on the allegations, that the Act was violated, the Board issues a notice letter to the dentist indicating that an investigation will be conducted to further determine if the Dental Practice Act has been violated.
The dentist then has the opportunity to prepare a written response to the Board, defending the allegations set forth in the notice letter. However, the problem arises when the allegations charged against the dentist are extremely vague. For example, the allegation might state that “on or about March 24, 2000, you violated the Dental Practice Act.” The date cited may or may not be correct, and thus, without any further information, the ability to prepare an informed defense and explanation is severely limited.
Dentists have the right to an attorney in actions brought by the Board of Dental Examiners. It may be prudent to retain an attorney, as a dentist’s livelihood is on the line, regardless of the severity of the allegation. Attorneys specializing in this field are keen to the process of the investigations, familiar with the investigators and what they are looking for, knowledgeable as to what is a fair sanction, if any, and ensure that the laws and regulations are followed during the investigation.
If legal representation is retained, an attorney, upon receiving the initial notice letter, will demand further information and a more definite statement with regard to the allegations against the dentist. The entire investigation file should also be requested, as well as the dentist’s personnel file. This information will give the attorney the information needed to prepare an accurate and thorough defense and response to the Board, and should include relevant exhibits and case law.
An attorney may also request an informal meeting with the Board of Dental Examiners investigator and the dentist to discuss the allegations, before any charges against the dentist have been filed with the Board. This gives the dentist the opportunity to explain in her own words what happened. Often times, the investigation is concluded after the response letter or meeting is conducted, and the allegations are dropped. This process takes between two and three months.
However, if the investigation continues after the meeting and response letter is submitted, the process may take well over a year. Eventually, the Board will issue proposed sanctions against the dentist if the allegations are substantiated. The dentist may accept the sanctions imposed, respond with a counter-offer (through an attorney), or choose to fight the charges against her and go to hearing. Sanctions imposed include a monetary administrative penalty, continuing education, suspension of license, and license revocation, all of which are posted on HIPDB. Thus, no matter how minor the sanction, it is available online for potential or current patients to discover.
An attorney can knowledgeably determine whether the sanctions are concurrent with the charges against the dentist, and will usually submit a counter-offer to the Board, or determine if a hearing is necessary. Legal representation can protect a dentist against any unwarranted action against his license.
Checklist to Prevent and Defend Actions Against Your License
- Keep all patient charts thoroughly updated and accurate. A lack of documentation can cost you your license.
- Keep patients well informed at all times, and document their education. A lack of information provided to a patient is often the cause of dental license investigation.
- Read any and all notice letters for the Board of Dental Examiners thoroughly. A missed deadline contained in a notice letter may preclude you from disputing the charges contained therein.
- Obtain legal representation upon receipt of notice of your license investigation. An attorney experienced in this field can best defend your license and your ability to practice.
All information in this article is informational only and is not legal advice. Should you have any questions or a situation requiring advice, please contact an attorney.
Copyright 2004 by Garlo Ward, P.C., all rights reserved
Austin, Texas 78752-3714 USA