A letter from the California Medical Board arrives at a physician’s office. It informs the doctor that a patient (or family member) has filed a complaint. The letter demands a certified copy of the patient’s medical records and requires the physician to submit a written statement of care in defense of the complaint per Bus. & Prof. Code § 800 (c). A two week deadline is usually imposed--not long for a physician with a busy practice. What should the doctor do? Does he or she need an attorney at this point?

First, we recommend contacting counsel experienced in defending physicians before the Medical Board of California. In most cases an attorney can successfully request more time for compliance. which allows the doctor breathing room to pull together relevant records, notes, test results and to jog the doctor’s memory.

The complaint letter is simply an initial communication filed by an analyst or other Medical Board staff rather than an investigator. What is required for compliance is prompt review of the patient records, preparation of a certified response from the custodian of records, and a well-prepared patient treatment narrative, in time-line fashion, that outlines the treatment provided and describes how it was within the standard of care. This response will be reviewed by a physician employed by the Medical Board, known as a “medical consultant”. If the physician-reviewer is satisfied with the response, the case may be closed at this early stage. If not, the matter is then referred for full investigation.

Once a matter is referred for investigation a whole different process applies. Medical Board investigations are supervised by the Attorney General’s Office and conducted by peace officer investigators. The initial step in a formal Medical Board investigation is most often a physician interview conducted by the investigator with a medical consultant (physician). Counsel should always be present.

Again, a well prepared interview response may result in closure of the matter. If not, the Board may refer the case for expert review by a physician in the doctor’s field of specialization. The expert’s findings may result in case closure or the filing of an accusation seeking license revocation, suspension or probation, and we have had success in obtaining closure in these cases.

Stephen M. Boreman is a Sacramento area medical license defense attorney with extensive experience before the Medical Board of California.  

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