By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law
At a recent Florida Board of Dentistry meeting, a dentist was charged with violations of her practice act and standard of care violations. This happened because her prior practice had provided incomplete patient records to an investigator when it received a subpoena. The records that had been provided were missing written notes and other documentation, along with copies of the prescriptions the dentist had written. This is just one example of what can happen if patient records are not provided in an orderly and complete manner to investigators.
Important Points for Board Hearings.
The dentist attended the Board meeting, having requested an informal administrative hearing. To obtain this type of hearing means that the dentist agrees that there are no disputed issues of fact; this equates to a “guilty” plea. The dentist is waiving her right to have a formal hearing, present a defense and contest the allegations made against her. When questioned by the Board, it was clear that the dentist did not understand this. She also stated that she had an attorney, but the attorney was not present to represent her or to advise her during the Board hearing.
Even though this was a dental case, the same principles of administrative law apply in the case of a physician, nurse, mental health counselor, pharmacist or any other licensed health care professional.
Most importantly, the dentist testified that her prior practice had failed to provide a complete copy of the patient’s health record to the Department of Health (DOH) investigator. The prosecuting attorney showed the Board where the records had been subpoenaed from the prior practice twice, and they had been provided to the DOH twice, along with affidavits from the practice that these were complete copies of the entire record. (These affidavits were false.)
Fortunately for the dentist, the Board members reviewed the records that had been provided and could see for themselves that key portions were missing. Also, fortunately, the Board decided to table the case and send it back for more investigation.
If the Board had decided to go forward, the dentist would likely have received discipline on her license forever.
Important Lessons for Dentists, Physicians, and Other Licensed Health Professionals.
Valuable lessons that all licensed health professionals can learn from this case include:
1. Hire an experienced health law attorney as soon as you know you are under investigation. Many times your malpractice (professional) liability insurance will pay your legal defense expenses in these cases.
2. Your experienced attorney will obtain a copy of the complete investigation file (including all documents it contains) shortly after it is completed and long before any hearings. If your attorney doesn’t, then you should do so. You can review it and supplement any incomplete records, documents or information.
3. Do not hire an attorney who is unable to attend the hearing with you. Continuances can be routinely requested and granted if the attorney has a conflicting hearing somewhere else, is ill or is otherwise unable to attend. Don’t attend the hearing without your attorney, if you have one.
4. Know the difference between an informal hearing and a formal hearing. If you request an informal hearing, you are admitting the charges against you are true and you are guilty. (There are only one of two very limited exceptions to this rule) You are only there to argue about how much discipline you should receive.
5. If you are investigated, personally make sure a complete copy of the patient’s record is sent to the DOH investigator. This includes everything: demographics, insurance info, financial responsibility forms, treatment plans, orders, prescriptions, lab reports, periodontal charts, informed consent forms, patient instructions, office visits, telephone notes, operative reports, sedation charts on notes, history and physical, medical clearances from outside physicians, and dental or medical records from other providers. Even if you are no longer employed at that practice, you have the right to request and receive a copy of all of the records you generated when you treated the patient under Section 456.057, Florida Statutes. At least obtain these.
For more information on this topic and to find out more about how The Health Law Firm can assist you in matters like this, read my prior blog here.
Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.
The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to dentists, dental technicians, physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.
To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 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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