5 Indest-2008-2By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

The investigation of a Department of Health (DOH) complaint which could lead to the revocation of the dentist’s license, usually starts with a simple letter from the DOH.  This letter should not be ignored. This is a very serious legal matter and it should be treated as such by the dentist who receives it.  Yet, in many cases, we are consulted by dentists after the entire investigation is over. The case has been presented to the Probable Cause Panel and formal charges have been filed against them.  They have attempted to represent themselves throughout the case unsuccessfully and the damage has already been done.  Often, the mistakes that have been made severely compromise our ability to achieve a favorable result for the dentist.

This is part one in a two part blog series.

These are the 30 major mistakes we see in the cases we are called upon to defend after a DOH investigation has been initiated against a dentist:

1. Failing to keep a current, valid address on file with the DOH (as required by law), which may seriously delay the receipt of the Uniform Complaint (notice of investigation), letters, and other important correspondence related to the investigation.

2. Contacting the DOH investigator and providing him/her an oral statement or oral interview.  Note:  There is no legal requirement to do this.  We recommend that you never do this.  Anything that you state may be used to help the state prove its case against you.  The DOH investigator is the equivalent of a police investigator attempting to make a case against you.  Don’t help them.

3. Making a written statement in response to the “invitation” extended by the DOH investigator to do so.  (Note:  There is no legal requirement to do this.  See above.)

4. Failing to carefully review the complaint to make sure it has been sent to the correct dentist.  (Note:  Check the name and license number, especially if you have a common name.)

5. Failing to ascertain whether or not the investigation is on the “Fast Track” which may then result in an emergency suspension order (ESO) suspending the physician’s license until all proceedings are concluded.  (Note:  This will usually be the case if there are allegations regarding drug abuse, alcohol abuse, sexual contact with a patient, mental health issues, failure to comply with PRN instructions, or default on a student loan.)

6. Providing a copy of the physician’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume to the investigator because the investigator requested them to do so.  Note:  There is no legal requirement to do this.  We have actually had information from the dentist’s CV used against him in the case presented against the dentists.

7. Believing that if they “just explain it,” the investigation will be closed and the case dropped.  This never happens.  Every case is presented the Probable Cause Panel of the Board of Dentistry.

8. Failing to submit a timely objection to a DOH subpoena when there are valid grounds to do so.  If there are valid grounds for objecting to a subpoena issued by a DOH Investigator (or by an Order from the Surgeon General to do so) then it can and should be made.  The Department of Health does not have any authority to enforce subpoenas.

9. Forwarding only a portion of or failing to forward a complete copy of the patient’s dental record when subpoenaed by the DOH investigator as part of the investigation, when no objection is going to be filed.  We have seen this, especially with electronic dental records such as those maintained using the Dentrix system.   If you do provide a copy of the patient’s dental record (whether to the DOH investigator or to your attorney) you must be ceratin you produce each and every part of it.  This includes, daily journal entries, progress notes, periodontal charts, bills, treatment plans, x-rays, photographs, history & physical, informed consent forms, notes and telephone messages, correspondence, insurance company bills and EOBs.

10. Delegating the task of providing a complete copy of the patient medical record to your office staff, resulting in an incomplete or partial copy being provided.

11. Signing a “certificate” or “affidavit” that the copy of the record you have provided to the DOH investigator is complete.  There is no legal requirement of which we are aware that requires this.  Furthermore, we have seen this used against the dentists in a number of cases when he later discovers additional records (from another office or another source) that he had but did not include in the initial production.

12. Not being knowing or being able to tell that the investigation against them is a “fast track” or “Priority 1” investigation which is likely to be submitted to the Surgeon General for an Emergency Suspension s Order (ESO).

13. Failing to keep an exact copy of any dental records, documents, letters or statements provided to the investigator.

14. Believing that the investigator has knowledge or experience in dental procedures, medical procedures or the health care matters or the specific care or procedures investigated.

15. Believing that the investigator is merely attempting to ascertain the truth of the matter and this will result in the matter being dismissed.
Not every case will require submission of materials to the Probable Cause Panel after the investigation is received and reviewed.  There will be a few where the allegations made are not “legally sufficient” and do not constitute an offense for which the physicians may be disciplined.  However, only an attorney who has handled a large number of dentistry cases will be able to tell which cases these are.

In other cases, an experienced health care attorney may be successful in obtaining a commitment from the DOH (prosecuting) attorney to recommend a dismissal to the Probable Cause Panel.  In still other cases (usually the most serious ones), for tactical reasons, the experienced health care attorney may recommend that you waive your right to have the case submitted to the Probable Cause Panel and that you proceed directly to an administrative hearing.  The key to a successful outcome in all of these cases is to obtain the assistance of a health care lawyer who is experienced in appearing before the Board of Dentistry in such cases and does so on a regular basis.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Department of Health Investigations of Dentists.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.  To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law.  He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice.  Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area.  www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

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