A typical investigation starts with a letter from a Medical Board investigator requesting medical records for a patient or group of patients. This is often followed with a request to schedule an interview at one of the Medical Board’s regional offices. In some cases, an investigator may call on the telephone or visit a physician’s office. The smart move is to respond through a California medical license defense attorney or to inform the Medical Board’s investigator that the doctor will respond through a lawyer within two weeks.
Some physicians worry that they will look “guilty” if they hire a lawyer or wonder if the investigator will go easier on them if they show up without license defense counsel. The truth is that unrepresented doctors commonly increase their problems by answering questions with little or no knowledge of the allegations against them. The government is represented by attorneys, and Medical Board investigators are accustomed to working with administrative law attorneys who practice in the area of professional license defense.
Prior to the interview, a physician, or his or her attorney, has the right to request a summary of the allegations alleged in the complaint leading to the investigation. This right is authorized by California Business and Professions Code section 800© which provides for disclosure of a redacted complaint or summary of the allegations. In preparation for the interview, a physician under investigation should be aware of the allegations and review relevant patient charts.
Medical Board investigations are generally triggered in the following ways:
1) Complaints by patients, employees, co-workers or insurance companies;
2) Reporting of malpractice settlements or judgments by insurance companies and attorneys;
3) Reporting of the termination of employment or hospital privileges (Business and Professions Code section 805 reports); and
4) Self-reporting of criminal charges or a criminal conviction or disciplinary action disclosed on a license application
The interview will take place in a conference room at one of the Medical Board’s regional offices. The investigator and a physician consultant to the Medical Board will be present. The interview will be recorded. An experienced California medical license defense attorney may instruct a client not to answer some questions on topics that are irrelevant and/or unnecessarily invade the doctor’s right to privacy.
Examples of questions that may be inappropriate include questions on habits related to the drinking of alcoholic beverages and questions on the physician’s medical history and prescription drug use. The investigator may also ask the doctor to provide a urine sample for drug and alcohol screening. Providing a urine sample may be appropriate for a physician with a history of drug or alcohol abuse who wants to show that he or she is clean. On the other hand, declining to provide a sample is a valid exercise of the right to privacy.