Physical therapy is a demanding profession with significant educational, testing, practical experience, and continuing education requirements. In many states, Physical Therapists (PTs) must have a master's degree in physical therapy from an accredited program just to be eligible to be licensed. This typically includes a significant clinical practice element in addition to in-class coursework. The PT must also pass a national licensing exam administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. In some states, the PT license candidate must also pass a “jurisprudence assessment” exam, which tests the candidate's knowledge of laws applicable to physical therapy practice in that state. Once licensed, PTs must also meet continuing education requirements in order to maintain their PT licenses.
All of this adds up to a massive amount of time, energy, and money spent in the course of becoming eligible to earn a PT license in any state and keeping that license once it's been earned. As a result, if you are a licensed PT and are notified that someone has filed a formal complaint against you, you need to take the matter seriously. The license that you've worked so hard to earn may be in jeopardy, and if you lose your license, you may also lose your livelihood.
This is why you need the help of an experienced professional license defense attorney if you are faced with a state disciplinary proceeding that relates to your PT license. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have the experience and understanding of the legal standards and procedures that apply in PT license disciplinary proceedings nationwide. They can help you understand the details of the complaint, help you gather documents and other information that can help your case, act as your representative in discussions with your state licensing body, and, where necessary, defend you in a state disciplinary hearing.
The Complaint Process
While each state operates its PT disciplinary process in its own way, there are some general aspects of most states' procedures that are similar. Typical steps include:
- An evaluation of the complaint to make sure the licensing body has jurisdiction over the type of complaint that has been filed. For example, personality disputes between a patient and a PT that don't involve a violation of practice standards are not usually something that can result in state discipline (though it might be a matter for the PT's employer).
- If the complaint does make a disciplinary claim of the type that the state board regulates, there will typically be a detailed investigation of the matter. This can include documentation requests, witness interviews, interviews with the PT named in the complaint, and site visits.
- When the investigation process is complete, the state licensing body will decide whether the facts appear to support the complaint. In cases where they don't, the complaint may be dismissed, and no further action may take place. In cases where the facts support the complaint, the state will typically issue charges against the PT.
- In many cases, the state may also offer to end the case without a hearing, provided the PT agrees with the charges and the proposed penalty. There may or may not be a settlement conference at which the PT (and their attorney) can meet with a representative of the state in an effort to negotiate a more favorable outcome than the one initially proposed.
- Where the matter remains unresolved, it will usually proceed to a formal hearing, at which evidence can be introduced on both sides, and witnesses can be called, questioned, and cross-examined.
- The result of the hearing will either be in favor of the PT or against the PT; if it is against the PT, the state will impose a penalty for the violation.
Appeals are possible from an adverse hearing result; however, the appeals body (typically a state court) will usually only consider whether there were procedural or legal mistakes made at the hearing and won't re-try the case or consider new evidence.
Types of Conduct That May Be Result in Discipline
As a general matter, states will discipline PTs for the following types of misconduct:
- Sexual misconduct. Physical therapy is a very hands-on profession and may result in justified or unjustified claims by a patient of sexual assault. In addition, PTs, at times, disregard the practitioner-patient boundary and enter into improper romantic relationships with patients.
- Substance abuse. Treating patients while under the influence of drugs or alcohol is, of course, not permitted and can result in the PT failing to maintain the safety of the patient during treatment.
- Abusive conduct. Striking or verbally abusing a patient can result in the PT losing their license.
- Fraud. Billing for services that were not provided can defraud patients, the PT's employer, and insurance companies.
This is not an exhaustive list. If a PT engages in conduct that is not in the best interests of the patient and that may harm the patient, it is likely the kind of behavior that can be subject to discipline by the PT's state licensing body.
Types of Disciplinary Penalties
If a PT is found to have violated state treatment standards, the state can typically impose a range of penalties, including:
- A private reprimand that does not appear on the PT's public profile;
- A public censure, which does appear on the PT's public profile;
- A monetary fine that can run up to thousands of dollars depending on the state;
- Suspension of the PT's license;
- In situations involving drug or alcohol abuse, a non-public agreement to allow the PT to enter into treatment, with in some cases the PT's license being suspended during the term of the treatment.
Other penalties may be possible depending on the situation and the state.
How the Lento Law Firm Can Help
If you are a PT who is facing a possible disciplinary proceeding as a result of a formal complaint, working with an experienced professional license defense attorney can provide you with a number of significant benefits. Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have this kind of experience. They will help you quickly understand the details of the complaint against you, can advise you about the underlying laws that apply to PTs, and have experience with hearing and complaint resolution process that you may be facing. They will help you gather evidence helpful to your case, can evaluate the evidence being used against you, and are able to act as your interface in communications and negotiations with your state's licensing board. At a hearing, they can effectively introduce evidence and make arguments in your favor.
Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team Can Help You
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team have years of experience representing PTs and other healthcare professionals in disciplinary proceedings nationwide. They understand the state discipline process and what the state must show in order to discipline a PT and they can help you defend yourself and present your best case in any hearing that may take place. When your license is on the line, Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm Professional License Defense Team are there for you. Contact them today at 888.535.3686 or through their online contact form. You'll be glad you did.