A 2018 report published by the American Medical Association suggested that about 30% of doctors in the United States were likely to be sued for some type of wrongdoing at least once in their lifetimes. By the age of 55, that number increases to half.
And for a physician, an accusation of professional misconduct or wrongdoing is no small matter. State regulating agencies tend to take these allegations seriously, and that is certainly true in Colorado. Your extensive training and education means you are held to the highest of standards, and a violation could find your license - and your career! - in jeopardy.
Sadly, this scenario is more common than you might think, as physicians find themselves facing off against the Colorado State Medical Board without a clear understanding of the process or the steps they need to take to defend their practice.
Fortunately, you don't have to confront this kind of challenge alone.
Our Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm has the experience that you want on your side to present your case and achieve the best possible outcome. We've helped a variety of medical personnel, as well as tradespeople, service professionals, and other types of professionals who find themselves in similar situations. And we can help you too. Contact our law firm today at (888) 535-3686 or use our online form to schedule a consultation.
Physician Regulation and the Colorado Medical Board
All states have designated agencies to oversee the licensing and regulation of various professions. In Colorado, this responsibility falls to the Division of Professions and Occupations (DPO) of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies. Within the DPO, the Colorado Medical Board (CMB or Board) oversees certain medical professionals, including Medical Doctors (M.D.), Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.), Physician Assistants (P.A.), and Anesthesiology Assistants (A.A.).
The CMB consists of seventeen members, with eleven physician members (eight M.D.s and three D.O.s), two physician assistants, and four members from the general public, having no other interest or association (including financial) with the medical profession.
These members are appointed by the governor and serve four-year staggered terms so that no more than nine of the sitting members have a term expiring in the same year. Additional rules relating to the board can be found at Colo. Rev. Stat. § 12-240-105(1)(a).
The board is responsible for issuing new physician licenses, and as is the case in all states, Colorado doctors are required to meet a stringent set of requirements to receive their license and begin their practice.
The board also oversees the renewal of these licenses (a process that occurs every two years), as well as the issuance of reentry licenses (a form of "recertification") and complaints of wrongdoing against a physician. This includes both the initial complaint as well as the subsequent investigation and hearing, if necessary. If formal disciplinary action is called for, this will also be handled by the board.
Are All Physician Practices at Risk?
Yes! It doesn't matter if you're a general practitioner working in Pagosa Springs or a Radiation Oncologist in Boulder - all licensed medical professionals in Colorado are governed by the state's Medical Practice Act and the CMB.
That means any rulings, orders, or stipulations set out by the board must be followed, regardless of your particular practice or town.
And this is important because your physician's license is the key to your continued success as a medical practitioner in whatever role you might be working. Colorado has a very broad definition for the "practice of medicine" that includes the diagnosis and treatment of patients, as well as prescribing medication, pathology, telemedicine, and even maintaining the appearance of being a physician, such as through the use of the M.D. or D.O. designations.
This all-encompassing definition places your license - and your practice - under the governance of the CMB, regardless of how minimal or extensive your specific practice might be.
Knowing that you could lose your practice due to allegations of misconduct or professional wrongdoing makes it all the more imperative that you act quickly if you feel your license is in danger.
Fortunately, our law firm works with every type of physician specialty and practice. This includes everything from internists, dermatologists, and emergency medicine doctors to cardiologists, obstetricians, and neurosurgeons. If you need help defending your license, the Lento Law Firm Team is ready to work for you!
What Allegations Can Endanger a Physician's License in Colorado?
As you might expect, doctors (and other medical professionals) are held to a high standard of care, and rightfully so. It's important that a patient can reliably trust their medical team and the prescribed course of treatment. Knowing that physicians must complete extensive training and education requirements, for example, supports the notion that "this doctor" knows what they're doing. Likewise, the assurance that physicians are expected to adhere to strict moral and professional guidelines to continue practicing ensures that patients are truly being treated by "the best" doctors Colorado has to offer.
Because of this, the state has laid out a comprehensive list of behaviors and actions that can raise a red flag and put your physician's license in jeopardy. These include:
- Practicing without a license
- Fraud, misrepresentation, or deception in obtaining your license, your professional liability insurance, or your privileges at a given facility
- Patient abuse (including sexual) and patient neglect
- Violating board orders
- Abusing a patient's health insurance
- Substance abuse, including alcohol abuse and practicing while under the influence
- Failing to notify the board of an addiction
- Inappropriate sexual conduct with patients
- Practicing while impaired by a physical or mental disability, and failure to notify the board of such impairment
- Unethical or unprofessional conduct
- Patient endangerment and patient harassment
- Failing to report a suspended, refused, surrendered, or revoked license in another state for an act that would constitute professional misconduct in Colorado
- Failing to report an adverse action or ruling taken by another state or agency against you would constitute professional misconduct in Colorado
- Being convicted of a felony, a crime of "moral turpitude," or a crime that would otherwise constitute a violation
- Violating conditions of a probation
It's important to note that Colorado has mandatory reporting requirements that apply to all healthcare professionals - doctors included - as well as hospitals, insurance companies, and other organizations. This requirement means that it's not just your own actions that put your license at risk; failing to report misconduct committed by others in the medical community can get you into trouble too.
Also, remember that Colorado requires physicians to renew their license every two years. This means you could lose your ability to practice medicine in Colorado because of new allegations, even if you've successfully renewed your physician's license in the past. And because most states include a reference to "actions and behaviors in other states," a revoked or suspended license in Colorado could also affect your ability to support a multistate practice.
Is There a Disciplinary Process for Licensed Physicians in Colorado?
The Colorado Medical Board can receive complaints about physicians in a few different ways.
The state provides for both online reporting and hard-copy (mail-in) reporting from individuals. As mentioned earlier, it also requires hospitals to report disciplinary actions taken against a physician, including voluntary resignations for misconduct, and it is notified of any settlements or judgments made that affect the physician's professional liability policy.
Once a complaint has been received by the CMB, the president of the board will divide the members into two separate panels. Each panel has the ability to address initial complaints as well as hold formal hearings, but the same panel can't do both in the same case. That means one panel will oversee the investigation, and another panel will oversee the formal hearing, should such a hearing be necessary.
NOTE: The investigating (inquiry) panel of the board will notify you of the complaint through regular mail. Once you have received this notice, you have thirty (30) days to respond and tell your side of the story.
This is an important window because it gives you an opportunity to address the matter before it goes any further. Knowing how to effectively present your case here can be the difference between closing the complaint and proceeding to a formal hearing.
Contacting our office as soon as you receive this notice is the best way to prepare this crucial defense.
Should your answer satisfy questions and adequately explain the event, the board can close the matter with no further action being needed. However, there are some instances when the board must proceed with an informal investigation. These instances are as follows:
- When hospital privileges have been revoked
- When disciplinary actions have been taken against the physician
- When a medical malpractice settlement or judgment has been finalized
- When a physician has voluntarily resigned in response to allegations of misconduct
If your case includes one of the above scenarios, or if the inquiry panel finds that the complaint is credible, the panel will continue with an 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 supplying any additional information that may be requested.
There are several actions the inquiry panel may take after completing the investigation, depending upon their findings in your case. They can decide:
- The complaint is without merit, and the case should be dismissed.
- The complaint has merit but does not call for any further action.
- The complaint has merit and does not call for formal action, but it does suggest a concerning type of behavior that needs to be addressed. In this instance, the panel will send you a confidential letter of concern.
- The complaint has merit and should not be dismissed but does not require formal action. In this instance, the panel will send you a letter of admonition.
- The complaint has merit and warrants a formal hearing. The inquiry panel will send the issue to the attorney general to file a formal complaint.
If a formal complaint is filed, your case is still open, and your physician's license is still at risk. Don't try to navigate this process on your own. Having an experienced license defense team at your side gives you your biggest advantage and ensures you're able to present your best defense.
The Lento Law Firm Team has worked with physicians and other medical professionals around the country, and we're ready to go to work for you!
What Happens if My Case Is Referred for a Formal Hearing?
First and foremost, don't panic.
If the inquiry panel decides that your case requires a formal hearing, the attorney general will file the complaint, and your case will go before the second half of the board, as we described before. This is your hearing panel.
You are allowed (and encouraged) to be present at this hearing, and you may also bring legal counsel. You can present your defense and include evidence and testimony that supports your case. The entire proceeding will be recorded, and all witnesses will be sworn in.
An administrative judge will oversee the hearing and advise the panel on any legal matters as needed. Note that some cases are referred directly to an administrative judge instead of proceeding through the hearing panel. In these instances, the judge will make the ruling in accordance with current law.
In both cases, there are four possible outcomes:
- The case is dismissed
- You are given a letter of admonition
- Your license is suspended (indefinitely or for a specific amount of time)
- Your license is revoked
If you are found guilty, the hearing panel (or administrative judge) may also fine you up to $5,000 for each adjudicated offense. Depending upon the charges and your specific outcome, you may also have to undergo additional training or treatment, and you may have to submit to periodic exams or testing to prove your fitness as a physician.
The board has great leniency when it comes to these additional requirements. You may be allowed to continue practicing under a suspended license, for example, but that practice may be limited to certain procedures or processes, or you may have restrictions on your ability to prescribe medication. You may have to submit to drug testing on a regular basis, undergo counseling or substance abuse treatment, or you may have to work under a supervisor for a period of time to ensure you're meeting the high standards that are placed on Colorado physicians.
Even if you are not allowed to continue practicing during your suspension or probation, you may still need to undergo additional training and treatment before your license will be reinstated.
All decisions that are made by 1) a majority of the board or 2) three or more members of either panel constitute a quorum and are deemed actionable.
Any charges that fall outside of the board's jurisdiction (such as those of a criminal nature) will be prosecuted by the attorney general.
Can a Guilty Ruling Be Appealed or Reversed?
Yes! In Colorado, the Court of Appeals has immediate jurisdiction over Board rulings in disciplinary matters. In fact, in some cases, the board will instruct the attorney general to "perfect an appeal" at the time of the initial ruling, meaning that an appeal will automatically be filed on your behalf.
In general, the appeal must be filed within forty-nine (49) days of the filing of the final Board ruling, and appeals are typically just as lengthy and complex as your original hearing. Witnesses can be recalled, new witness testimony can be requested, and new evidence can be presented.
This means your long-term ability to continue practicing medicine in Colorado very likely hangs in the balance, and you shouldn't try to face this process alone.
The Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm can help you defend your license and ensure you present the best possible case. Our law firm has worked with physicians and doctors across the country and from a variety of specialties, and we know how to prepare an appeal.
Can a Revoked License Be Reinstated?
It can, but it won't be easy, and there are no guarantees that you'll be successful in your attempt to reinstate a revoked physician's license. That said, Colorado state law does provide a legal avenue for this type of reinstatement, known as a reentry license.
This type of license is akin to getting your beginner's license when learning to drive. It's reserved for medical professionals who have not practiced in two or more years and are looking to get back into the profession.
It's also used as a way for physicians with revoked licenses to pursue recertification.
To gain a reentry license, you'll have to wait at least two years from the official date of revocation before the board will consider your request.
You'll then need to submit your application, and all applicants "shall submit to evaluations, assessments, and an educational program as required by the board." This training is at the board's discretion, meaning they can even work with a third party to develop a program designed specifically for you.
If your application for reentry is approved, you complete the necessary training and assessments, and the board feels you are competent and ready to begin practicing medicine again, they will either:
- Issue a reentry license, good for three years, allowing you to practice medicine in a restricted, limited, or supervised capacity; or
- Issue a full license, allowing you to practice medicine with all the rights and privileges a physician's license would normally convey in Colorado.
If you are issued a reentry license, you will have three years to complete this additional training and convert your limited license to a full physician's license.
Reentry licenses are not renewable. This process also applies if you have surrendered your license voluntarily to avoid further disciplinary action.
Keep in mind that this process can be intimidating and even overwhelming. You may also find it frustrating, especially if you're giving it your best effort and feel you're not getting the consideration you deserve. Having an experienced license defense team in your corner is the best way to ease some of that anxiety and give you the best chance for success.
What You Should Know Before You Sign a Consent Order
A Consent Order is a voluntary agreement between you and the CMB. It allows you to avoid any further disciplinary action by agreeing to whatever allegations and stipulations the board sets out. You are essentially agreeing to plead guilty and take the negotiated punishment in return for signing the order.
And in some cases, this may truly be the best way to go. Consent Orders can bypass much of the hearing process and sometimes offer a lesser penalty for your cooperation. They can also help you get the assistance you need, such as in cases of addiction or mental health issues.
But a consent order also waives your right to a hearing. It eliminates your ability to present evidence. And because you're admitting to the charges, that order becomes part of your public record.
Also, know that the stipulated penalties can include fines, as well as a requirement for additional training or treatment, and even a partial or full suspension of privileges.
That can create financial hardship that can affect other areas of your life if you're not prepared for it.
It can also make it harder to file an appeal, as the agreement was voluntary. And you signed it.
This doesn't mean that you shouldn't sign. Only that you should talk to an experienced attorney first, and the Lento Law Firm Team can help you negotiate this type of agreement and come to the best possible terms.
Take Steps To Make Your Physician's License Legally Defensible
While you can't prevent an allegation from being made, there are several ways to make it easier to defend your physician's license against them.
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 should an allegation be made.
Colorado does not require continuing education credits for physicians, for instance, but that doesn't mean you can't take the classes anyway.
Enrolling in recognized training programs that enhance or expand your practice shows the board you're serious about your role as a physician. Maintaining transparency in your medical practice, your billing, and your record-keeping procedures is also highly recommended, as is supplying regular training for your staff. Creating a process that ensures your patients receive the best care and have ample opportunities to ask questions can also help.
The key here is to document everything. Use plain language in your patient forms and have detailed and accessible records to back up your processes. Again, these steps won't prevent an allegation from being made, but it will be easier to prepare your defense when you're able to prove your adherence to Colorado's strict standard of care.
Does the Lento Law Firm Serve All of Colorado?
Yes, our law firm works with physicians all across the country, including the entire state of Colorado and all its healthcare facilities.
That means we can help you protect your license, no matter where you're located or where you work.
This includes facilities in the bigger metropolitan areas, such as Children's Hospital in Colorado Springs, University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, and Rose Medical Center in Denver. But it also includes the many facilities spread out across Colorado's smaller communities and rural areas, including East Morgan County Hospital in Brush, Conejos County Hospital in La Jara, and Colorado Plains Medical Center in Fort Morgan.
The bottom line is simple: if you need to defend your physician's license against accusations of professional misconduct or wrongdoing, we can help!
Contact The Lento Law Firm Team To Protect Your Physician's License
You've spent a considerable amount of time and effort to obtain your physician's license. You've also worked your way up, building on your reputation and achieving a certain level of status and privileges along the way. So, if it's now being threatened by allegations of misconduct, you need to act fast.
You need a Professional License Defense Team.
Our law firm has both the experience and the ability to help you prepare your very best defense, and it doesn't matter if you've just received notice of a new allegation or if you're going through the reentry process to get your revoked license reinstated.
We're here for you!
We can help you through every stage of Colorado's disciplinary process, including:
- Responding to the initial complaint
- Gathering evidence and witnesses to support your case
- Defending you during a formal hearing
- Pursuing a dismissal of the complaint
- Representing you in all interactions with the CMB, the administrative judge, and any hearing and inquiry panels of the board.
- Filing and presenting your appeal
- Negotiating the best possible terms for a consent order
- Negotiating for leniency in disciplinary actions
- Helping you prepare your application for reentry
We know this is a difficult time, and we understand you might be feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, and even angry at the circumstances.
So, don't try to face it alone.
Our Professional License Defense Team understands Colorado's disciplinary process, and we know how to navigate the system. You can bet the state and the board have all the legal resources they need.
Shouldn't you have those resources too?
Let our firm help you protect your license and keep your practice. Don't wait another minute - call us today! Contact the Lento Law Firm Team at (888) 535-3686, or go online to schedule a consultation.