In 2022, state medical boards and osteopathic boards issued more than 6,500 disciplinary board actions to just over 3,000 physicians nationwide. That's down slightly from years past, but still a notable number. And of those 3,000+ physicians, almost half were experiencing their state's discipline process for the first time.
For a physician, facing off against a state medical board over allegations of professional wrongdoing is no joke. After all, Boards have the authority to not only fine and reprimand and supervise, they can take your license away too.
In fact, using those 2022 numbers, almost 27% of the physicians disciplined experienced some sort of reduction in their ability to practice, from ongoing restrictions on certain treatments and procedures to complete surrender or revocation of the physician's license.
And while it's clearly a good thing that state regulating agencies take accusations of professional wrongdoing seriously, it's also important that the physicians being accused have the legal counsel and representation they need to present a proper defense.
Sometimes, that means fighting the accusation every step of the way; sometimes it means finding the best possible solution for an unfortunate or difficult situation.
And yet, we find that many physicians don't have this kind of counsel when they go before the state board, a scenario that's true in Virginia as well. The Virginia Medical Board takes allegations of professional misconduct seriously - as they should - but too many Virginia physicians find themselves facing off against the Board without the tools and resources they need to mount a solid defense.
That's where we come in!
The Lento Law Firm Team has been working with doctors and other medical professionals for years, and we know how to defend a physician's license. Our extensive experience and command of the law can help you present your case and achieve the best possible outcome. And we're ready to go to work!
Physician Regulation Through The Virginia Medical Board
Physicians in Virginia are regulated by the state's Department of Health Professionals (DHP) and one of its divisions, the Virginia Medical Board (VMB or Board). The Board itself consists of eighteen members and oversees a long list of medical professionals, including Medical Doctors (M.D.), Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.), Occupational Therapists, and Physician Assistants (P.A.).
The VMB also includes eleven Advisory Boards to assist with certain professions, such Midwifery and Genetic Counseling.
Physician regulation consists of licensing new doctors and issuing training licenses for interns, renewing expired licenses, certification of expert witnesses, and addressing complaints of wrongdoing against physicians. This includes both the initial complaint as well as any subsequent investigation and hearings that may follow. If disciplinary action is called for, that would fall under this heading too.
This regulation is provided under the state's Medical Practice Act (Code of Virginia, Title 54.1, Chapter 29) and Virginia's Administrative Code, Title 18, Agency 85, Chapter 20.
Which Physician Practices And Specialties Are At Risk?
All of them!
Virginia requires all of its physicians to meet strict licensing requirements and standards of care, regardless of where you're located or what kind of practice you have. That means that a geriatric physician in Virginia Beach is held to the same standards as a thoracic surgeon in Petersburg and a dermatologist in Bridgewater.
If you want to practice medicine in the state of Virginia, then you will be governed by its Medical Practice Act (MPA) and all its rules and regulations.
This also includes any rulings, orders, and stipulations that have been issued by the Board. Virginia's MPA grants the VMB the authority to manage and regulate all medical personnel, so you'll be expected to adhere to any requirements or rulings the Board deems necessary.
In fact, Virginia's statutes define the practice of medicine (including osteopathic medicine) as the “prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of human physical or mental ailments, conditions, diseases, pain, or infirmities by any means or method.”
This broad definition ensures that the Board has clear and complete authority over both your license and your practice, making it all the more important that you act quickly if you are faced with allegations of misconduct or professional wrongdoing.
In fact, the sooner you contact the Lento Law Firm Team, the sooner you can start reclaiming some peace of mind. Our law firm works with all physician practices and specialties - including internists, cardiologists, podiatrists, and emergency medicine doctors - and we're ready to go to work for you too!
If you need to defend your physician's license, our firm can help!
Allegations That Can Endanger A Physician's License In Virginia
Like all states, Virginia has a comprehensive list of actions and behaviors that constitute professional wrongdoing. Understand, however, that these definitions are broad in nature because the state wants to be sure it covers all variations of misconduct. This is the only way to ensure that physicians (and all other medical professionals) consistently meet that high standard of care we've mentioned.
It also serves as an assurance to the public that the doctors in Virginia are both trained and skilled in the medical arts AND that they have the appropriate nature and moral compass to handle such an important position in the community.
Put simply, patients need to trust their doctors; this list of unacceptable behavior helps the state make sure that they can. Conduct prohibited by Virginia's MPA includes:
- Fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation in both the process of obtaining your license, and the actual practice it conveys;
- Substance abuse;
- Negligent or intentional actions that cause or could cause harm to a patient;
- Mental or physical incapacity or incompetence;
- Restriction of a medical license in any other jurisdiction, domestic or foreign;
- Knowingly or intentionally committing any act that is a felony, or committing any act that is a misdemeanor and involves moral turpitude;
- Practicing in a way that endangers patients or the public;
- Advertising in a way that conveys superiority, or in a way that violates the Board's rules on physician advertising;
- Unauthorized or unlawful prescribing of controlled substances;
- Aiding or abetting others who are practicing illegally;
- Conduct that violates the ethics of the physician's chosen practice or specialty;
- Improper billing or abusing a patient's health insurance;
- Failing to notify the Board of an addiction.
Also, be aware that Virginia is very specific about even presenting yourself as a physician. The mere act of holding yourself out as a medical professional is considered enough “constitute a medical practice,” and it will trigger these statutes, even if you haven't performed any major procedures or treatments. Make sure your license is in order before you hang your shingle.
In addition, Virginia has mandatory reporting requirements that require medical personnel to report any wrongdoing or other violation to the Board within 30 days of discovering the act in question. This includes doctors, as well as hospitals and other healthcare facilities, medical malpractice carriers, and yes, other medical professionals. This means that anyone can file a complaint, and it's not just your own actions that can put your license at risk. If you fail to report misconduct you've witnessed or discovered, that is a violation of Virginia's statutes, even if you weren't personally involved.
Understanding The Disciplinary Process For Licensed Physicians In Virginia
Complaints are initially made to the Enforcement Division of the DHP and can be made verbally or in writing. The Enforcement Division makes an initial assessment and, if needed, an investigation. This process takes an average of three months to complete, but be aware that this time frame could vary, depending upon the allegations and the availability of witnesses and other factors.
Also note that DHP investigators work with law enforcement when it's warranted, at the local, state, and federal levels. This may also extend the time needed to complete the investigation. This process can include interviews with persons involved in the incident as well as those that may have witnessed the event or any (related) subsequent actions or effects. You will be expected to cooperate with the investigation by answering questions and providing any additional information that may be requested. See DHP's Guidance Document on The Adjudication Process for more information.
Upon completion, the Enforcement Division then forwards the collected evidence and investigation assessment to the VMB for further consideration.
At this stage, the Board has three basic options:
- The Board can dismiss the charges and close the case.
- The Board can offer a Consent Agreement. This is just what it sounds like - an agreement between the Board and the physician, and if you sign it, the proceedings end here. This option is used for minor incidents where no harm was caused, and the incident is not likely to be repeated.
- The Board can offer a Consent Order. This works like the Consent Agreement above, but this is used for more serious offenses, and it is public record, so anyone can find it. Consent Orders are the alternative to an informal conference or formal hearing. It will also become part of your professional record.
- If you do not agree with the Consent Order or Consent Agreement (or if your case is more serious), the matter will progress to a hearing.
IMPORTANT: If you receive a notice of a complaint, it is essential that you contact our office immediately. This initial notice gives you a window to present your case or negotiate the best possible terms to a Consent Agreement or Consent Order. Having an experienced Professional License Defense Team at your side is the best way to take advantage of this opportunity.
Formal VS Informal Disciplinary Hearings In Virginia
In many cases, the initial disciplinary hearing is an informal conference in front of an Agency Subordinate or a Special Conference Committee (SCC). Both are conducted without a court reporter or witnesses, and both types of conferences can result in a dismissal of your case, but there are some key differences.
An Agency Subordinate, for example, is a person designated by the VMB, usually a staff member or a current (or past) Board member. This type of conference is open to the public but not the news media and the Agency Subordinate does not have the authority to order any disciplinary action. Instead, they can choose to dismiss your case or make a recommendation to the Board.
This recommendation must be made within 90 days, and a copy will be mailed to you. The Board will then consider the recommendation at its next scheduled meeting, and a copy of the ruling will be mailed to you in the form of a written Order.
The SCC, on the other hand, consists of two or three members of the Board. This entity can order disciplinary actions, including monetary sanctions, probation, restrictions on your practice, and even suspension, denial, or revocation of your license. The SCC may also refer the matter for a full, formal hearing or offer a Consent Order in cases of suspension and revocation.
It's also worth noting that this type of hearing is open to the press.
Once all the evidence has been reviewed, the Board will deliberate behind closed doors, and you'll be notified of their decision at the hearing.
A formal hearing is a full, administrative hearing in front of the entire Board and is prosecuted by an Assistant District Attorney (ADA). This type of hearing is used when an informal hearing has been appealed or when the charges are serious enough to warrant a full trial. A court reporter records the trial, and witnesses can testify under oath.
When the trial is complete, the Board will deliberate behind closed doors and notify you of their decision at the trial. This decision will also be mailed to you in writing as an Order.
As with the SCC, the Board has the authority to enforce all levels of discipline, from dismissals and reprimands to sanctions, probation, suspension, and revocation.
You are allowed to have legal representation at every stage of these hearings. If you have received notification that a complaint has been filed against you, don't try to face this ordeal alone. Our law firm can help you present your best defense to protect your license.
We've worked with physicians and other medical professionals around the country, and we have the experience you need. Call us today!
Can Virginia Medical Board Disciplinary Orders Be Appealed Or Reversed?
They can, but there are rules and deadlines you should note.
For informal hearings before an SCC, you may request an appeal in writing, and a formal hearing (before the entire Board) will be scheduled. If your informal hearing is before an Agency Subordinate, you may request an appeal via a formal hearing if you attended the informal conference. If you did not attend, your only appeal option is through the state's circuit court system.
Appeals for Orders issued at a formal hearing are also appealed through the circuit court.
In all cases, the appeal must be in writing and mailed or filed within the deadline specified in your Order. There are other administrative rules that can come into play as well, depending on your specific case. It's always best to consult with an experienced attorney before filing your appeal to make sure you're ready to present your best case.
Fortunately, the Lento Law Firm Team has many years of experience, so we know how to represent you at an appeals hearing and advocate on your behalf. Don't let your license hang in the balance while you try to navigate this process on your own. Let the Lento Law Firm go to work for you!
Can A Revoked License Be Reinstated?
In Virginia, physicians can apply for reinstatement after three years from the date of the license revocation order unless their license was revoked for boundary issues (inappropriate sexual contact with a patient). In these cases, you must wait five years before you can apply for reinstatement.
If you're not sure, check your Order; it should state when you'll be eligible for reinstatement.
Time frames aside, keep in mind that the burden of proof is now on you. During your hearing, it was up to the Board (and ADA) to present sufficient evidence to find you guilty. In a reinstatement hearing, you must convince the Board that you are ready to return to practice.
It should come as no surprise, then, that this process can be intimidating, especially if you're trying to handle the reinstatement on your own. Working with an experienced license defense team is a good way to ease your frustration and ensure you feel heard by the Board.
What You Should Know Before You Sign A Consent Order
We mentioned these earlier, but they deserve another look here.
Consent Orders and Agreements work in basically the same way - they serve as a binding, voluntary agreement between you and the Virginia Board of Medicine. Signing one of these agreements allows you to avoid further disciplinary action in exchange for agreeing to whatever charges and punitive actions the Board orders.
It's very much like pleading guilty at a trial; you no longer have to prove anything, but you do have to abide by the punishment set out by the court. That punishment may well be less than if you had pushed for the trial, but you are waiving your right to present a defense in the process.
And also, like a guilty plea at trial, signing a consent document will go on your record.
In some cases, striking a deal with the VMB may be your best option. They can streamline the process, alleviate some stress, and even offer assistance with addiction and mental health concerns.
But they also negate your ability to defend your professional reputation. They dismiss your right to demonstrate your competency and present your evidence.
They also make it much more difficult to file an appeal because, after all, you agreed to the ruling.
Also, know that your voluntary agreement doesn't prevent the Board from stipulating fines, restrictions, and even suspensions as part of the deal. That means that you may be waiving your right to practice along with your right to be heard.
Your best option, in these instances, is to work with an experienced attorney who understands the impact these documents can have and can help you negotiate the best possible terms. Our law firm has that experience, and we're ready to help you protect your practice!
Learn How To Make Your Physician's License Legally Defensible
Speaking of protecting your practice, there are steps you can take to make it much harder to tarnish your professional reputation.
Staying up to date on your continuing education requirements, for example, shows that you're committed to your practice as a physician. Likewise, taking additional training programs that enhance or expand your practice demonstrates a strong level of dedication to your craft and tells the board you're serious about the care that you give your patients.
This is known as making your license “legally defensible,” and it's one of the best ways to protect your practice and increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
Maintaining transparency is another important step in building this defense, so look at your medical practice, your billing processes, and your record-keeping procedures to see where improvements might be needed. Does your staff need training? Are there processes in place to ensure your patients receive the best possible care at all times?
Address these issues and then document everything. Use plain language in your patient forms and have detailed and accessible records to back up your processes. In fact, Virginia requires that physicians maintain records of supporting documentation for six years after renewing a license as part of its continuing education requirements. This is a great example of just how valuable good record-keeping can be.
Granted, these steps can't stop an allegation from being made, but they will help you prepare a strong defense should your professionalism ever be called into question.
What Areas Of Virginia Does The Lento Law Firm Serve?
We work with physicians and other professionals across the country, and again, we work with all specialties, too… so we can help you defend your license no matter where you are or where you work!
That means physicians working at the smaller healthcare facilities in Virginia's urban communities - such as Bath Community Hospital in Hot Springs, Buchanan General Hospital in Grundy, and Centra Southside Community Hospital in Farmville - can receive the same dedicated legal assistance as physicians in the state's larger institutions and metropolitan areas.
Whether you work at the John Randolph Medical Center in Hopewell, Henrico Doctors' Hospital in Richmond, LewisGale Medical Center in Salem, or anywhere in between, the Lento Law Firm is ready to help you protect your practice against allegations of misconduct.
Contact The Lento Law Firm Team To Protect Your Physician's License
We know how hard you worked to get where you are today. Obtaining a physician's license is no easy feat - add to that the time and energy you've devoted to establishing your reputation and building your practice, and it's easy to see why you'd want to protect that accomplishment and safeguard your license.
So, let us help.
Our law firm has many years of experience working with physicians just like you. We understand the challenges you're facing, and we know how to navigate the hearings and proceedings that lie ahead. It doesn't matter where you are in the process - whether you've just received a notice of a complaint, or if you're scrambling to keep your license from being revoked.
Our Professional License Defense Team can help you achieve the best possible outcome!
So, what can the Lento Law Firm Team do for you? Working on your behalf, we can:
- Respond to the initial complaint
- Prepare your defense by gathering evidence and supporting witnesses
- Represent you in all interactions with the VMB, the Agency Subordinate, the SCC, and the ADA in conjunction with a formal hearing or appeal
- File your appeal and present your case
- Negotiate the best possible terms for a consent order or consent agreement
- Negotiate during the disciplinary process
- Pursue a dismissal of the charges before the case progresses
Think of it this way: you can bet that the Board has all the legal resources it needs to conduct a thorough investigation and pursue any remedies it deems necessary. Shouldn't you have this same kind of support?
We understand the stress associated with facing this kind of challenge, and we know what's at stake. This isn't just a piece of paper, after all… it's your livelihood. It's your future.
So, let us help you defend it.
Our Professional License Defense Team is ready to go to work for you. You don't have to face this ordeal alone. Contact the Lento Law Firm Team today at (888) 535-3686, or go online to schedule a consultation.