Physicians never want to open the mail to see a Complaint Letter from the Texas Medical Board. But knowing how to respond can determine the fate of their livelihood and practice. Read on to learn more about what to do when you receive a Complaint Letter.
Having an experienced attorney help you craft your response can be the deciding factor between losing your license and having the complaint dismissed. At Gardner Employment Law, we have represented many physicians over the years, and we can help you draft your initial response letter.
What is the Initial Complaint Letter?
An Initial Complaint Letter is the TMB’s (Texas Medical Board) notice to a physician that a complaint has been filed against him or her. The Complaint Letter may contain only a vague summary of the allegations. It will request information from the physician and will provide the name of the TMB investigator and potentially the complainant’s name. We explained entire TMB review process, including an introduction to the Initial Complaint Letter, in “How Do Physicians Defend a Review at the Texas Medical Board?”.
Once a complaint is filed, the TMB investigators have 45 days to perform a preliminary review before taking action. During these 45 days, usually toward the end, the TMB will send you the Initial Complaint Letter. An Initial Complaint Letter is never routine or normal. When you receive the Complaint Letter, the TMB has already started investigating you. Depending on the severity of the complaint, your career, license and practice are in jeopardy.
Responding to the allegations against you starts the moment you receive the Initial Complaint letter. You should engage an experienced attorney right away to assist in filing a proper response. Time is of the essence because your response is typically due in no later than than thirty days. Despite this short timeframe, a failure to respond can result in disciplinary action being taken against you, including a revocation of your license.
How Do You Respond to a Medical Complaint?
Your response to a medical board’s Complaint Letter depends on the type of allegations and who filed the complaint. Even though the Complaint Letter may not provide much detail, an experienced attorney may be able to “read between the lines” to figure out the issues and analyze how serious the matter could be. Many times, patients file simple complaints, and only a short response is needed. In responding to these complaints, “less is more.” You should not copy the entire file and reveal everything you know on the subject.
A physician may not know why the complaint was even filed and may believe that the best response is one filled with strongly worded defenses and heaps of information. This may not be the best approach and can even hurt a physician. Make no mistake, the TMB is a prosecutorial organization. Their job is to protect the public’s health. The fact that you have received an Initial Complaint Letter means that the TMB views you as a potential hazard to public health.
Further, everything you put in your response letter will become part of the entire investigatory file and will be carefully analyzed by the TMB for any possible error. The TMB may use your response letter against you and can even investigate other matters if they find flaws in the information you send them. An experienced attorney can prevent the filing of unnecessary materials and damaging information which would otherwise have gone unnoticed by the TMB.
Your response to medical board complaints must be treated with the utmost care. A well crafted response letter may result in an immediate dismissal of the complaint. The TMB has stated that, in one fiscal year, over 2,800 complaints were dismissed because of a response letter. However, a bad response letter could result in further investigation. It could even cause the TMB to open other claims against you. An effective response will explain why the complaint must be dismissed, provide enough information to facilitate the dismissal, and state an adequate defense without seeming too abrasive.
Even if the complaint is not dismissed at this stage, a thoughtful and professional response at this point can frame or narrow the issues that are ultimately the subject of the investigation. This may spare the physician from being the subject of a fishing expedition by the TMB’s investigators.
Why Should a Physician Consult an Attorney to Help Them Draft Their Response Letter?
A physician’s initial response letter is the first chance to tell his or her side of the story, to defend against the allegations. An experienced attorney will be able to help you draft the best possible response in order to get the complaint dismissed before it goes any further. While it may be tempting for a physician to draft his or her own response in order to save money, this course of action is not recommended. As we said earlier, the TMB is a prosecutorial organization, and they are seeking to prosecute you. Like the legal dramas on T.V, everything you do and say can and will be held against you. You need an experienced attorney in your corner to help you put the complaint behind you so you can get back to what is important, practicing medicine and saving lives.