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California Medical Board Reports Rise in Enforcement Actions

Complaints to the California Medical Board are up, and so is the budget for the California Medical Board to investigate those complaints. Discover the factors driving the increased enforcement activity, and steps that physicians facing discipline can take to mitigate the risks to their professional careers.

By: Earll M. Pott and Harold C. Trimmer

The number of complaints filed with the California Medical Board is on the rise, and so is the budget state lawmakers are allocating to investigate.

The California Medical Board reported that it received 9,619 complaints in fiscal year 2016-2017, a dramatic increase over the 8,679 complaints in the preceding year. This is according to the Board’s latest Annual Report, released in January 2018.  During that same period, 425 investigations were referred to the Attorney General’s office, resulting in the filing of 314 accusations.

The complaints being lodged are coming from multiple sources. Nearly two thirds of the complaints were lodged by the public, but physicians, practice groups, hospitals, insurers, and other professionals were also significant sources of new complaints.  With the increase in complaints came a substantial increase in the Board’s enforcement budget, up 17 percent from $26,331,000 to $30,781,000

Greater enforcement budgets and stepped up enforcement action mean enhanced peril for licensees.  And the consequences of an accusation filing continue to be quite grave.  Of the 440 administrative outcomes reported in 2016-2017, 42 resulted in license revocation and 101 led to license surrender during the pendency of the investigation.   In 177 cases, physicians were placed on probation, with or without a period of license suspension.

The California Medical Board also identified the types of cases it is directing investigators to look into. Overprescribing, particularly with respect to opioids, remains a top Board priority.  Health and safety complaints, which consist mostly of dangerous drug violations, jumped by nearly 50 percent, driven by a nearly seven fold increase in referrals from other government agencies, such as the Department of Public Health. Fiscal year 2016-2017 also saw significant increased complaints of negligence, unprofessional or sexual misconduct, and fraud.

The Board’s increasingly aggressive enforcement posture highlights the need to be proactive when facing potential discipline.  Board investigations can lead not only to licensing discipline, but to referrals to law enforcement for criminal investigation.  It is essential that a licensee contact an experienced license defense attorney immediately upon receipt of notice of a Board investigation and not wait for the filing of an accusation.  A well-crafted, thorough, and thoughtful response to an initial Board inquiry can often defuse an investigation swiftly and economically.

If licensees receive notification of potential discipline, time is of the essence. Klinedinst attorneys, Earll Pott and Harold Trimmer, have defended physicians and other professionals facing potential license discipline for over a decade and will work with licensees to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution to an investigation or vigorously contest the matter through to an administrative hearing.

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