Actions before a Medical Licensing Board can be a scary thing for a physician. From how complaints originate, to how the process works, these are situations that physicians do not wish to experience. What follows are questions and answers with Deputy Attorney General, Tim Weber of Indiana. Mr. Weber routinely brings physicians before the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, and was gracious enough to sit down and share some of his experiences.
How many physician complaints does your office receive in a year?
The average number of consumer complaints received by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) that pertained to the Medical Licensing Board over the last five full calendar year was 585.
Can you estimate the percentage of physicians/practices that retain counsel to assist with their initial response to a complaint?
I cannot give an exact or even approximate percentage of physicians/practices that retain counsel to assist with their initial response to a consumer complaint as this is not a statistic kept by the OAG. As indicated above, the OAG receives hundreds of these complaints a year. Most consumer complaints are closed after investigation. If charges are filed against a physician with the Medical Licensing Board, most physicians do retain counsel.
What are the major categories that the complaints fall into? (Money disputes, patient harm, inappropriate personal behavior, etc.)
Some of the major categories of consumer complaints include inappropriate prescribing practices, drug or alcohol use by the physician, criminal convictions, rudeness, billing disputes, failure to meet standard of care, and receiving discipline in another jurisdiction. Consumer complaints that fall into some of these categories may overwhelmingly come from certain types of complainants. For example, many consumer complaints regarding criminal convictions come from the Professional Licensing Agency, and most complaints alleging that a physician was rude or abrupt come from patients.
Has your office had any complaints that relate to misuse of social media, websites or other online technology? If so, can you provide some general thoughts/reaction?
The OAG regularly receives consumer complaints regarding misuse of social media. Typically, these consumer complaints involve disclosure of protected health information. The important thing to realize with regard to social media is that you will be held accountable for your actions on social media as a physician whether or not you were acting in your capacity as a physician when you posted the information or not. Simply put, you are always a physician, whether you are at work or not.
Are there any trends your office is seeing that medical providers should be aware of?
The major issue that pervades the work of every Case Analyst and every Deputy Attorney General in the Medical Licensing Section is the opioid crisis and prescription drug abuse generally. Physicians are in the middle of this crisis. Some members of the medical profession are part of the problem, due to over-prescribing or prescribing dangerous drug combinations. Many physicians are part of the solution, prescribing appropriately and providing insight to the OAG and other agencies and organizations combatting the epidemic. Physicians need to speak out when they see colleagues who are engaging in unsafe or outdated prescribing practices. Every investigation at the OAG must start with a consumer compliant being filed.
Physicians are uniquely situated to help combat the opioid crisis. They can help stem the tide of prescriptions reaching individuals who will abuse them. They can also help the regulatory entities react to the ever-evolving nature of the crisis. The OAG welcomes the help of the physician community to that end.