As a working chiropractor, your license to practice is your most valued possession. Not only is that license hard-earned through years of education and tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, but it is the document on which your entire livelihood resides. Without it, you couldn't treat patients, operate a practice, or work as a chiropractor in any other healthcare facility.
Suffice it to say that when your license is threatened by an investigation by the medical board, it can turn your world upside down. Your whole career could be at risk—even over a misunderstanding, a mistake, or a minor lapse in judgment. What do you do when a complaint is filed against you? What does the disciplinary process look like? Most of all, what steps can you take to protect your license and your career?
Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many chiropractors and other licensed medical professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York who are in danger of losing their license. We've compiled the following information to help you know what to expect and what steps to take.
What agency in my state handles chiropractic license investigations?
Each state has its own licensing board to regulate the licensing of chiropractors and administer disciplinary action as necessary. In New Jersey, you answer to the State Board of Chiropractic Examiners. In Pennsylvania, it's the State Board of Chiropractic. In New York, it's the Chiropractic Division of the Office of the Professions. If a complaint is filed against you or your practice in one of these states, these are the respective boards that will investigate you.
What offenses could cause me to lose my chiropractic license?
The most common accusations that can result in the loss of your license include:
- Fraud. Common examples of fraud allegations include fraudulent billing (of patients or insurance), falsifying patient diagnoses for insurance purposes, falsifying records, false advertising, accepting kickbacks, etc.
- Substance abuse/addiction. Alcoholism and drug abuse can be grounds for losing your license, especially if you practice while under the influence.
- Sexual misconduct/improper relationships. This broad category may include allegations of unwanted sexual advances toward patients, colleagues, or employees, as well as inappropriate romantic relationships with patients, which is viewed as a huge ethical violation.
- Criminal convictions. In many states, criminal offenses may constitute a violation of your chiropractic license.
- Gross negligence or incompetence. Failing to practice chiropractic to state standards of excellence, or failing to provide the basics of reasonable care, can be grounds for losing your license.
- Acting outside the scope of your license. Performing medical services that your license doesn't permit can cause you to lose your license.
Could I face other, lesser penalties without losing my license?
Yes. Depending on the circumstances, the licensing board might invoke other types of sanctions while allowing you to keep your license. Examples may include:
- License suspension. The board may suspend your license for a period of time, subject to further review.
- License restriction. The board may limit your permitted activities or services you can provide.
- Fines. The board may impose a monetary fine.
- Continuing education requirements. If a violation occurred to a gap in
- training or education, the board may mandate classes as a requisite for keeping your license.
- Probation. Probation means the board will monitor your progress for a specified length of time to ensure you're fulfilling the requirements for keeping your license active.
- Reprimand. The board may opt to issue a private or public reprimand for your actions.
While these other penalties might be preferable to having your license revoked entirely, they can still do damage to your career because most disciplinary actions become a matter of public record. If a patient, clinic, or potential employer chooses to look you up, they can easily see whether any disciplinary actions have been taken against you, which may affect their willingness to work with you.
What does the disciplinary process for chiropractors look like?
Specific disciplinary processes may vary from state to state, but generally speaking, you can expect the disciplinary process to look something like this:
- Complaint. Almost all disciplinary proceedings start with a formal complaint against you, which may be filed by a patient, colleague, insurance company, or another practitioner.
- Investigation. The board will investigate the complaint to determine its credibility and merit. This will likely include an invitation for you to respond to the complaint, interviewing the complainant and witnesses, reviewing documents, etc.
- Inquiry. If the board is not satisfied with your written responses during the investigation, they may ask you to appear at an informal inquiry to answer questions personally.
- Consent order. If the board finds enough evidence to support the complaint, they may try to negotiate a consent order as an alternative to going to a full hearing.
- Formal hearing. If a consent order cannot be agreed upon, or if the alleged charges are especially egregious, the matter moves to a formal hearing, which may be held either in front of the board itself or in front of an Administrative Law Judge, depending on the rules of your state.
- Final determination and penalty. When the hearing concludes, the board will make a final determination regarding the complaint and decide on which sanctions to impose on you, up to and including revoking your license.
At many points during this timeline, the board may determine that there is not enough evidence to support the complaint and opt for dismissal. Involving a professional license attorney early in the disciplinary process can greatly improve your chances of this happening.
What is a consent order? Should I agree to one if it is offered?
A consent order is a legally binding agreement between the state, the board, and you, in which you collectively agree upon a set of prescribed sanctions as an alternative to having a formal hearing. If the board has ample evidence and disciplinary action is likely, a consent order may be a good option, especially if it means you can keep your license. On the other hand, a consent order is essentially an admission of guilt, and it will still appear on your public record as a disciplinary action, so if you have evidence to refute the complaint, a consent order might not be in your best interest. Never agree to a consent order without the advice of an attorney who is experienced in license defense.
Why do I need an attorney if my chiropractic license is in jeopardy?
Many chiropractors fail to understand what is at stake when a complaint is filed against them. They may wrongly assume that they can get the board to see it their way if they just explain the situation correctly. The truth is, the board is there to protect the public, not you. You do have the right to represent your own interests without an attorney, but experience says that you won't get a good outcome if you attempt to go it alone. Furthermore, any attempt you make to address the board informally could actually work against you because the board is actively looking for evidence of wrongdoing.
Your medical license is not just an agreement with the medical board; it constitutes a legal agreement with the state, and any action the board takes to revoke your license is a legal action. For that reason alone, it is in your best interests to hire a legal professional to represent you in front of the board. Your odds of a fair outcome are greatly increased when you do so.
Do I still need an attorney if the allegations are minor?
For best results, you should still hire an attorney even if the complaint seems to be minor. Assuming the board won't revoke your license over a “minor” offense could be a serious mistake, and having an attorney will still give you a better chance for a favorable outcome. In addition, even minor complaints can do damage to your career if they result in disciplinary actions. If the alleged offense truly is minor, having an attorney improves your chances of having that minor complaint dismissed, so it doesn't go on your public record.
Does hiring an attorney make me appear guilty to the board?
Absolutely not. The board does not expect you to understand the disciplinary or legal processes surrounding this investigation, and they are used to interacting with lawyers. Hiring an attorney does not suggest to the board that you are guilty—rather, it suggests that you are taking the matter seriously.
Can an experienced license defense attorney help me?
A license defense attorney can take numerous steps to improve your chances to keep your license intact. A good attorney will:
- Help you understand the nature of the complaint, what is at stake, and
- how you can defend against it;
- Work with you to prepare an appropriate defense strategy;
- Act as your official legal representative in all interactions with the board and/or the Administrative Law Judge;
- Gather evidence and witnesses on your behalf;
- Negotiate with the board at numerous points for dismissal of the complaint and/or a more lenient outcome; and
- Defend you in a formal hearing, if necessary.
If an investigator shows up at my home or place of business, am I required to let them in or answer their questions?
No, you are not—nor should you. Do not be pressured to allow an investigator into your home or practice unannounced. Assume that anything you say or do could be used against you. Instead, ask for their contact information and tell them your attorney will contact them. You are expected to cooperate with an investigation, but you do not have to put yourself at a disadvantage.
Can a professional license attorney help me get my license reinstated if it has been revoked?
Yes. State licensing boards have a mechanism in place for reinstatement of licenses for those who are eligible. The reapplication process may include any/all of the following requirements:
- Filling out an application for reinstatement, possibly with a written explanation as to why you're requesting it
- Paying filing fees and/or reactivation fees
- Submitting a detailed work history of all jobs held while your license was inactive
- Providing proof that you have completed any requirements for reinstatement (e.g., continuing education)
Submitting to any action plan prescribed by the board as a requisite for reinstatement
Throughout this process, a good license attorney can coordinate your application and fees, monitor the status of your application, and negotiate with the board when necessary for the best possible terms of reinstatement of your license.
I've just received notice that I am under investigation. At what point in the process should I get an attorney involved?
The sooner, the better - if you wait until the complaint reaches the formal hearing stage, you will be operating at a significant disadvantage because the board usually doesn't call such a hearing unless there is sufficient evidence to support the complaint. Hiring an attorney early in the process gives you more opportunities to resolve the complaint before it reaches the hearing stage, even improving the possibility of having the complaint dismissed.
If your chiropractor license is under investigation, you may be facing an uncertain future regarding your career. You've worked too hard to get where you are today to take unnecessary risks with your professional license. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has successfully defended many chiropractors and other licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York. He understands the disciplinary processes and how to deal with the licensing boards in these states. Don't let your career become a victim of a misunderstanding or mistake; let us help you save your license and your career. Contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.