You've worked very hard to earn your dental license in Rhode Island, and keeping your license is vital to your current livelihood as well as to your future. You've spent thousands of hours learning and training in college and dental school, passing your National Boards, collecting and submitting all of the information required by the Rhode Island Department of Health for your license application, submitting a background check, and meeting the requirements for any additional registrations (such as those required to be able to administer sedation or anesthesia).
Along the way, you've spent more money on education and training than you probably want to think about. The last thing you need is to find yourself losing your license – even temporarily – because of a disciplinary situation that might have been resolved with the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney. In addition to the harm that a disciplinary investigation can cause to your reputation and your practice, the stress of the entire situation can take a serious toll on your mental health.
You're probably already familiar with the Rhode Island Department of Health. It's the state agency responsible for licensing dentists and other dental practitioners and for investigating and taking action on complaints filed against licensed dentists in the state. It also handles license renewals and provides resources such as information about continuing education and practice-related opportunities. The license defense attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team are familiar with the Department of Health, too, and specifically with the department's disciplinary practices and procedures. If you find yourself being investigated as a result of a complaint filed with the Department of Health, our attorneys can help you understand your situation and will help you defend yourself through the investigation and any hearing or resolution process.
Ways the State of Rhode Island Department of Health Can Discipline Dentists
The Department of Health investigates complaints that relate to claims that a dentist failed to provide appropriate dental care, did not provide dental records in a timely fashion, or committed one or more of the types of “Unprofessional conduct” prohibited by Rhode Island law. It does not investigate fee or billing dispute issues or “issues related to personality conflicts or poor customer service.”
While the person filing the complaint can file anonymously or ask the Department of Health not to disclose their identity during the investigation process, it makes the investigation of the complaint more difficult since patient records can't be requested without disclosing the name of the patient.
The investigation process may exonerate you. If it doesn't, the Department of Health may bring specific charges against you. These may be resolved by way of a consent process (most substantiated Dental investigations in Rhode Island are resolved this way) or where an agreement can't be reached through an administrative hearing.
If the complaint is substantiated, the Department of Health may issue a letter of concern to you, sanction you by way of a letter of reprimand, issue a compliance order against you, directing you to stop practicing certain dental procedures until you have received additional training; place you on probation for a defined period of time; suspend your license for a defined period of time; accept the voluntary surrender of your license; or direct that your license be terminated. The Department of Health may also require you to take certain courses or training in specific areas of dental practice related to the complaint. Many of the disciplinary actions taken by the Department of Health will become public and can easily be accessed and reviewed by anyone through the Department of Health's website.
What Standards Does Rhode Island Expect Dentists to Uphold?
Rhode Island law has specific requirements for many aspects of Dental practice. There are, of course, licensing requirements relating to education and testing and the information that must be submitted before a dental license can be issued. Dentists are also required to take continuing education courses after they've been licensed – 40 hours of continuing education dental courses every two years – and to attest that they have completed the required continuing education when they renew their license, which they must do every two years. Dentists must keep accurate records for each of their patients for at least five years after the date of the patient's last dental visit, and there are specific requirements for the information that is to be included in these records.
Dentists who intend to administer anesthesia must go through additional training that varies depending on the type of anesthesia being used. They must have a permit issued by the Department of Health before they are allowed to administer anesthesia to patients; to get this, they must have completed specific types of training. The training covers the standards and procedures that dentists must follow when administering anesthesia, some of which are set by the state and others by organizations such as the American Dental Association.
Grounds for Dentist Discipline in Rhode Island
There are many grounds for disciplining dentists in Rhode Island. The applicable Rhode Island statute describes 29 different types of “unprofessional conduct,” including:
- Submitting fraudulent information in connection with your dental license application
- Deceptive advertising that claims you are accredited in a specialty in which you're not
- Criminal convictions, in particular, any felony or any crime “arising out of the practice of dentistry”
- Abandoning a patient, meaning a situation where you stop treating a patient but do not provide the patient with notice or a referral to another dentist;
- Addiction to “controlled substances,” “habitual drunkenness,” or treating patients while intoxicated or “incapacitated by the use of drugs”
- Marketing “drugs, devices, appliances, or goods or services” to a patient in a way that exploits the dentist-patient relationship
- Making false patient records or filing false patient care reports
- Splitting dental fees with someone in return for referring you patients
- Agreeing to accept or accepting fees from labs in return for providing them with test work
- Overcharging for services
- Practicing dentistry in an incompetent manner
- Cheating on a license exam
- Violating state or federal laws relating to controlled substances
- Engaging in malpractice
If you have been notified that a complaint has been filed against you and that the Department of Health is investigating it, the notice should specify what the complaint is about. This is the time to get help: before you're interviewed by an investigator, before you receive a records request, and before the Department of Health completes its investigation. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you from day one; our experienced license defense attorneys know the laws, rules, and procedures that apply in Dental discipline investigations in Rhode Island, and we know how important and stressful this can be for a busy dental practitioner such as yourself.
Don't Assume the Truth Will Protect You from Dental License Sanctions in Rhode Island
When you receive a notice that you're under investigation because someone has filed a complaint against you, your reaction might be along the lines of “This is all just a big misunderstanding,” and you may think, “All I need to do is to sit down with them and explain the situation.” As much as we would love for this to be true, we have seen too many situations where communications between professional license holders and disciplinary investigators get scrambled. Perhaps the investigator's questions aren't entirely clear, or maybe the dentist's explanation isn't fully understood by the investigator.
What can help immensely is to have a skilled professional license attorney at your side when you're questioned by a Department of Health investigator. The attorney can listen to the questions you're being asked and can consider whether they are clear or not before allowing you to answer. If the question is not clear, your attorney can work with the investigator to make sure that it is. Having an attorney on hand who can help you only answer clear, unambiguous, understandable questions can make a tremendous difference in the quality of the interview.
Similarly, if you provide an answer that isn't entirely clear, your attorney can alert you to that and help you clear up any ambiguities during the interview – instead of weeks or months later after the investigator has taken action based on a mistaken understanding of what you meant.
Your attorney can also help you prepare for the interview. Most of us are not used to interviews where our professional license may be on the line. It's natural to be nervous in this kind of situation, but that can also lead to you providing unclear or inaccurate answers to interview questions. If you prepare for your Health Department interview, you'll be more relaxed and better able to provide the information that the investigator needs to help resolve the matter.
The attorneys who make up the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team are professionals with years of experience helping make sure that interview situations are as fair to both sides as possible. It's in everybody's interest to have clear questions asked and clear answers given.
The Adjudication Process for Dentist Licensing Issues in Rhode Island
After a complaint has been filed and reviewed by the Department of Health to make sure that it is the type of complaint against a dentist that the department regulates, it will be investigated. You may be asked to respond to the allegations in writing, and both you and the person who filed the complaint may be interviewed. Depending on the type of complaint, patient or office records may be requested and reviewed, and co-workers or others present during the relevant time may be interviewed. The entire investigation process may take weeks or months.
If the complaint is substantiated, the Department of Health may file charges against you. They may notify you of the charges and propose a way to resolve them, ranging from a letter of concern to revocation of your license. Whether or not to accept this kind of an offer is one area where an experienced professional license defense attorney can be extremely helpful. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you evaluate these consent offers in light of the evidence that the Department of Health says supports the proposed action.
In some situations, it may help to discuss the proposal with the Department of Health, providing additional information that could support a revision of the offer in your favor. In others, it might make sense to accept the offer. And in still others, especially where you have a strong case, you may want to decline the offer and move forward with a hearing. The Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team has the skills, background, and experience to help you in any of these scenarios.
If things do move to a hearing, they will proceed according to procedures set forth in Rhode Island law. There will be a pre-hearing conference, where the parties will meet with an Administrative Hearing Officer (AHO) to go over the disputed issues, identify likely witnesses, discuss whether any issues can be removed from the dispute, set the schedule for the case, and to cover other “housekeeping” types of issues.
This may be another opportunity to discuss resolving the disciplinary hearing through an agreement instead of through the hearing process. Your attorney can advise you on whether having that discussion makes sense at the pre-hearing conference stage.
As the hearing date approaches, both sides may be required to exchange evidence that they intend to use at the hearing. The AHO may ask for briefs on certain issues. The AHO may make some preliminary decisions about the types of evidence that will or won't be allowed at the hearing or may resolve some contested legal issues in advance. Witnesses may be subpoenaed to make sure they appear at the hearing.
At the hearing, the Department of Health will go first, presenting its case against you. Your attorney will have a chance to cross-examine their witnesses and may also argue against written or other physical evidence. Then, your attorney will present your defense, which may include your own witnesses and documents.
After this, the AHO may allow each attorney to make a closing argument or may ask that each side provide written arguments by a certain deadline.
The AHO's decision must be in writing and will contain the facts and the law that supports the decision. Up until the time that the AHO delivers the decision, the parties can elect to enter into a consent order, where they both agree on certain facts and a proposed outcome. The AHO may accept or reject that proposed consent order.
Either side may appeal the AHO's order to the Rhode Island Superior Court. The appeal complaint must be filed with the Superior Court within 30 days of the date the AHO decision is issued.
What Happens if You Are Disciplined by the Rhode Island Department of Health?
If you accept a disciplinary action by the Department of Health, or if the AHO decides that a particular remedy is supported by the evidence presented at the disciplinary hearing, you will receive a notice that describes the sanction and a record of the facts supporting the sanction and the sanction against you will be available to the public through the Department of Health website. If, as part of the resolution of your disciplinary matter, you're required to undertake certain dental training, this will be disclosed as well, and of course, you will need to take the training in a timely fashion if you want to avoid further sanctions.
How the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help
Whether your dental practice is located in Providence, Woonsocket, Westerly, Newport, or some other part of Rhode Island, the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team can help you if you're a dentist who has received a notice that a disciplinary complaint has been filed against you. Our experienced, professional license defense attorneys understand how the complaint investigation process works in Rhode Island, and they know the laws, procedures, and policies that apply to dental disciplinary matters. We will vigorously and fairly represent you and will make sure that your rights are respected throughout the entire process.
Disciplinary investigations can be nerve-wracking. They're a distraction from your day-to-day dental work and can lead to sleepless nights. But having an experienced professional license defense attorney on your side can alleviate much of that burden. The experienced attorneys from the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team understand this. We have helped professional license holders all over the US defend their good names in disciplinary investigations and hearings, and we are ready to help you.
Your dental license is too important to you to risk losing. Call the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team today at 888.535.3686, or use our convenient online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. We know how stressful this is for you, and we are here to listen and to help!