You've worked hard to establish your professional reputation as a dentist. With nearly a decade of school, dental residency, additional training, and staying up on the latest in dental technology and care, you've invested thousands of hours of your time and a lot of money in your career. That's why it can be disappointing to hear that someone filed a complaint against you, your professionalism, or your ethics as a dentist.
While it can be easy to think a professional complaint is a simple misunderstanding you can easily clear up, it's important to remember that the stakes are high regarding professional complaints. If your state dental licensing board takes disciplinary action against you, it can harm your professional reputation and even end your career. That's why it's essential that you consult attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm. They can help nationwide.
Potential Board Investigation Triggers for Dentists
Because dentists deal with sensitive patient information and health, it is a highly regulated profession. Each state has a licensing board that oversees the qualifications, education, testing, and standards needed to become a dentist. On top of that, your licensing board also maintains a code of conduct and ethics that all dentists must adhere to in their practices. When the dental licensing board receives a complaint alleging that a dentist has violated those standards, they will investigate any credible grievance. Some of the most common complaints that can lead to a dental licensing board investigation include:
- Fraud, such as overbilling patients or insurance, upcoding to obtain higher reimbursement rates, and billing for procedures not performed,
- Accepting money or kickbacks for patient referrals,
- Patient abuse or neglect, including physical, verbal, and sexual abuse or harassment,
- Negligently prescribing medication, including inappropriately prescribing painkillers or overprescribing narcotics,
- Failing to keep adequate records, including falsifying or changing patient records,
- Criminal arrests or convictions and failing to report arrests or convictions,
- Drug or alcohol abuse, and
- Gross violations of the standards of patient care, particularly violations that lead to lasting damage or disfigurement.
Allegations of malpractice can also be serious, but a licensing board won't typically handle those unless there's an allegation of abuse or some intentional malfeasance. Rather, malpractice suits typically go before a medical review board before a civil court.
The Board Investigation and Disciplinary Process for Dentists
While your state licensing board may have additional procedures or regulations for investigating a potential professional violation, the process is typically the same from state to state. The process begins with a complaint against you made to the board, an investigation, a potential consent decree, a formal complaint and hearing, and a possible appeal.
- Complaint: The process begins when someone makes a complaint alleging that you've violated professional or ethical standards. The dental board will review the complaint first to see if the allegations violate professional standards. The complaint may come from a patient, co-worker, another dentist, employee, clinic, dental office, or hospital.
- Investigation: Next, the dental board will investigate the claim, and they may notify you in writing and ask for a response, written responses to questions about the allegations, and documents related to the complaint. The dental board may also determine that the complaint has no merit and dismiss it entirely.
- Consent Order: If the board believes the complaint has merit, they may first try to negotiate a consent decree, including a punishment or sanction, with you and your attorney. In some cases, this may allow you to resolve the matter privately.
- Formal Complaint and Hearing: If you disagree with the dental board investigation results and can't agree to a consent decree, the dental board may make a formal complaint against you with the state. At this point, an administrative law judge (ALJ) can hear your case in a formal hearing. If the ALJ makes an adverse finding against you, they will also enter a punishment or sanction.
- Appeal: After the ALJ's decision, you have a limited period to appeal to a court. However, the court will not review your case entirely; rather, the court will review the ALJ's decision solely for mistakes of fact or the law.
Potential Penalties from Dental Board Disciplinary Actions
If the allegations against you are minor, it can be easy to shrug them off as inconsequential. But an adverse finding from the dental board can hurt your professional reputation and career. Some of the most serious allegations can result in suspension or loss of your license to practice as a dentist, effectively ending your career. Potential punishments or disciplinary action from the dental board can include:
- Restitution to a patient or others who've suffered a loss,
- Fines from the board,
- Imposition of conditions on keeping your license, including substance or alcohol treatment, counseling, continuing education, sexual harassment training, or other classes,
- Private or public reprimands that go on your record, and
- The suspension or loss of your license to practice.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
When you receive notice of a complaint against you, after the initial outrage, your first reaction may be to assume that you can clear this up and explain away a misunderstanding by telling your side of the story. This is natural. But, when you speak to the dental board about a complaint, what you say can be used against you during a disciplinary proceeding. Trying to clear things up on your own can come back to haunt you.
Moreover, while a hearing can sometimes be informal, the witnesses and documents can still be used against you. You must ensure that you present the best possible defense, with help crafting your side of the story. With a formal hearing, navigating the rules and procedures of an administrative law proceeding without an attorney can be challenging. You need someone to protect your rights and your career throughout the process.
The Lento Law Firm Can Help You
If you're facing an investigation and possible disciplinary action against you by your state dental licensing board, you need help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the experienced Professional License Defense Team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping professionals like you nationwide for years. Find out how they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686, or contact them online to schedule your consultation.