Complaints filed through the Florida Department of Health against a physician can be extremely damaging to his or her career and long-term livelihood. Any license discipline whatsoever may affect a physician’s current employment and future employability. License discipline is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank and the Federation of State Medical Boards and is permanent unless removed or modified by the reporting entity. Since potential license discipline can be so costly to the career you have poured your time and resources into, you must be diligent in your response to and defense of any complaint made against your license or any impending investigation.
Florida Statute section 458.331 defines the actions that can lead to license discipline. The statute specifically delineates over fifty topics that can lead to license discipline. Some of these categories are construed very broadly, such as a criminal conviction that “directly relates to the practice of medicine or the ability to practice medicine.” Predictably, virtually any criminal conviction is construed by the Department as potentially relating to your ability to practice medicine. Similarly, the section proscribes the failure to “perform any statutory or legal obligation placed upon a licensed physician.” This catch-all provision appears in many complaints, and is construed very broadly by Florida’s courts.
Here are some of the more common areas of alleged violation:
Florida’s physicians have been targeted in personal injury suits for medical malpractice at a historic rate, causing many physicians to leave the practice of medicine, move to other states, or stop carrying malpractice insurance. These suits are frequently unfounded or frivolous, but even a frivolous allegation will frequently result in a report to AHCA and investigation by the Department of Health. Presenting a thorough defense to the Department early in the process is vital in such cases, including reports from expert witnesses to validate your course of treatment and adherence to the standard of care.
Drug or Alcohol Abuse / PRN
Ten to fifteen percent of physicians suffer from a substance abuse disorder at some point during their life. This closely mirrors the rate among the general public. However, for physicians, substance abuse tremendously impacts their career, as it impairs their ability to practice with reasonable skill and safety.
In most instances, a minor substance abuse issue, such as marijuana use, do not actually impair their ability to practice. Nonetheless, if you become the subject of an investigation or complaint for an alleged substance abuse problem or positive drug test, you will almost certainly be referred to the Professionals Resource Network (PRN).
PRN has great benefits for practitioners who are in need of help. However, most physicians are not impaired as a result of alcohol or drug use. Nonetheless, physicians are frequently told by hospitals, adminstrators, and PRN officials that entry into the program is the only way to continue practicing.
For physicians who are not in need of rigorous addiction treatment, there are viable alternatives, such as retaining a PRN-approved provider to opine on the physician’s safety to practice. If there is an issue with a physician’s safety to practice, a less intrusive program than PRN’s five-year commitment and temporary relinquishment of medical license may be able to be negotiated.
What You Must Prove to the DOH and the Board
When a physician is the subject impairment-related complaint or there has been a positive drug test, the burden of proof is on the physician to prove his safety to practice to the Board. This can be done by showing:
- There have been no previous positive drug tests or impairment related complaints or investigations.
- You do not have a drug or alcohol addiction.
- The impairment or positive test was an isolated situation.
- You are safe to practice.
- You would not benefit from a period of monitoring, and do not need active supervision.
Jonathan Rose is experienced in dealing with drug and alcohol issues of Florida’s healthcare providers and is prepared to work through this process with you and, if possible, prove to the relevant Board and the Department that you are safe to practice.
What to Do if Accused of Substance Abuse or Impairment
- Do not contact PRN. While the program can be beneficial for some, they are not there to help or guide you. Participation in the program will REQUIRE the temporary relinquishment of your license, and there is no guarantee when your license will be reinstated. Their sole mission is to protect the public from impaired practitioners. You will likely be encouraged to contact PRN by hospital officials or co-workers. You are under no obligation to do so.
- Call an experienced healthcare licensing attorney for advice and guidance. If handled inappropriately, discipline in such a matter could result in suspension or revocation of your license. If handled properly, such issues can result in no or minimal discipline.
Criminal Arrests and Convictions
As noted above, virtually any arrest can place your medical license in peril. DUI, alcohol-related reckless driving, domestic violence, allegations of healthcare fraud or kickbacks, and most other arrests can result in license discipline.
As a physician, if you receive a complaint from the Department of Health or if you are the subject of a criminal investigation, the following actions are absolutely necessary:
- Seek counsel from an attorney experienced in criminal law and administrative matters with the Department of Health and the Board of Medicine, no matter how frivolous the allegation may be.
- Do not report the arrest to the Board immediately. You must report any conviction within thirty days, not the arrest itself.
- Do not speak with law enforcement during an investigation without counsel from an attorney experienced in both criminal law and healthcare law. The impact on your license from such an arrest can be devastating, and in many instances can be avoided by properly handling the investigation and any resulting charges.
Suspensions – Medical licenses can be suspended for many reasons, including positive drug screens, probation violations, failure to comply with PRN, criminal convictions, failure to complete CMEs, and nonpayment of student loans. Handled appropriately, your medical license can be reinstated. If your medical license has been suspended, contact Jonathan Rose immediately. There is a very short period of time in which you can request a hearing to challenge the suspension order.
Other Areas of Representation for Physicians
- Allegations of malpractice
- Inappropriate medical diagnosis
- Standard of Care Deviation
- Drug diversion
- Inappropriate patient or employee contact
- Sister-state discipline and convictions
- Medical license application omissions or errors