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Can You Get a Doctor’s Medical License Taken Away?

If you or a loved one was a victim of negligence by a doctor that caused serious injury, birth defects, or death, you want the state to take action. A victim of medical malpractice would want a negligent doctor removed from practice to prevent other families from having to go through the same sort of tragedy. Unfortunately, most doctors who are accused of medical malpractice go on practicing medicine. 

In most cases, it will be extremely difficult for you to get a doctor’s medical license taken away. However, through reporting medical malpractice, reckless conduct, or doctor-patient relationship violations, your actions may initiate a disciplinary board investigation. If the doctor’s violations are serious enough or if it comes after a pattern of similar misconduct, the state medical board may suspend or permanently revoke a doctor’s medical license.  

There are several reasons why you should consider filing a medical malpractice lawsuit after a medical injury. In addition to making sure the doctor is held accountable, a malpractice claim can help you get compensation for your medical bills, loss of income, and future medical care. If you were injured because of a medical mistake, talk to a medical malpractice attorney about your legal options. Your experienced medical malpractice lawyer can file a claim against the doctor and hospital to help you recover damages for your injuries and losses. 

Medical Board Licensing and Discipline

Each state has its own medical licensing board. The qualifications of doctors between states are pretty similar but each state has its own policies, procedures, regulations, and rules for initial licensing, maintaining an active license to practice, and disciplinary procedures. This means that the process for discipline and license suspensions will depend on the state where the medical care occurred. 

According to the Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB), state medical boards, “have the responsibility of determining when a physician’s professional conduct or ability to practice medicine warrants modification, suspension, or revocation of a license to practice medicine.”

State medical boards review and investigate complaints or reports made about a physician’s incompetent or unprofessional conduct, including violations of criminal law. Medical boards may review reports or complaints from patients, other health care professionals, government agencies, health care organizations, or other state medical boards

After a state medical board receives a complaint about a physician, the board can review the information, conduct an investigation, hold hearings, and impose discipline against the doctor under their state licensing power. Disciplinary measures include: 

  • Public reprimands
  • Fines
  • License suspension
  • Probation
  • License revocation

When a patient makes a complaint about a doctor’s conduct, including negligence that caused a medical injury, the medical board may take into account the patient’s complaint. However, an injury victim may have no say in what kind of discipline the board will take. Many victims of malpractice are disappointed to learn that the medical board only reprimands a doctor or imposes a brief suspension after a doctor caused serious injury, disfigurement, or death. 

What Is Unprofessional Conduct for a Doctor?

There are lots of things a doctor could do that would trigger disciplinary measures. This includes actions both in and out of the medical setting. According to FSMB, some examples of unprofessional conduct include: 

  • Alcohol and substance abuse
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Neglect of a patient
  • Failing to meet the accepted standard of care in a state
  • Prescribing drugs in excess or without legitimate reason
  • Dishonesty during the license application process
  • Conviction of a felony
  • Fraud
  • Inadequate record keeping
  • Failing to meet continuing medical education requirements

While any of these areas could impact patient care, the unprofessional conduct that most directly could cause medical errors include neglect of a patient and failing to meet the accepted standard of care. In fact, failing to meet the accepted standard of care is one of the primary factors in any medical malpractice case. An injury victim needs to show that the doctor deviated from the standard of care in order to prove medical malpractice

Below, we will look at some of the types of unprofessional medical conduct and how it impacts patient care. 

Alcohol and Substance Abuse

The medical profession can be stressful. Many doctors turn to drugs or alcohol to help cope with the stress of their job. Some types of doctors may have higher rates of substance abuse problems, including psychiatrists, anesthesiologists, and emergency room doctors. One of the problems with the profession is that doctors have greater access to drugs than other professions. 

According to a study published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine, in a survey of physicians, 69.1% reported a history of misusing prescription drugs to manage pain, emotional distress, stressful situations, for recreation, or to avoid withdrawal. Misuse of opioids, pain killers, and other substances can present a serious danger to patients. The effects of some of these drugs may include difficulty concentrating, drowsiness, tremors, clouded thinking, blurred vision, and visual hallucinations. 

Doctors are not regularly drug-tested. Many doctors can go on practicing during their periods of drug abuse or even when they are under the influence of alcohol. Like some other professions, there is sometimes an unspoken code of silence amongst doctors not to report another doctor’s misconduct, even if it may endanger patients. This allows dangerous doctors to go on treating and mistreating patients, even when other doctors, supervisors, and even hospital staff may know there is a history of substance abuse. 

Prescribing Drugs in Excess or Without Legitimate Reason

Prescribing drugs without a legitimate reason is also a type of misconduct that can be related to substance abuse. Doctors with a drug problem may make a deal with other people who also have a substance abuse problem. For example, the doctor could prescribe a 3 months supply of painkillers to a patient with the understanding that the doctor gets to keep half of the medication in exchange for giving the patient a prescription. This could put the other person in danger of drug overdose or addiction and put other patients at risk by being treated by an impaired physician.  

Sexual Misconduct

A doctor is supposed to have a professional relationship with their patients. If a doctor engages in behavior, expressions, or gestures that are sexually suggestive or sexually demeaning, the doctor may be acting with sexual impropriety. A sexual violation involves physical sexual conduct between a doctor and patient, whether or not one or both parties believe it is consensual. A doctor cannot have a sexual relationship with a patient and abide by their Hippocratic Oath to maintain a professional and respectful relationship. 

Any sexual violation or sexual impropriety is a deviation from the medical standards of care. When a doctor breaches their duty to follow the medical standards of care and it causes harm to the patient, the doctor may have committed medical malpractice. Harm in a sexual misconduct case can include physical injuries, emotional harm, or mental distress

In a 2019 report, a review of California medical board data found that since the fall of 2017, there was a 62% increase in complaints against physicians for sexual misconduct. In 2018 alone, the California medical board received more than 11,000 sexual misconduct complaints against physicians. However, only about 2 dozen California physicians lost their licenses because of the reported sexual misconduct. It may take criminal charges being filed before the medical board would act to take away the doctor’s license.

According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, medical boards often give sexual misconduct offenders a 2nd chance (or 3rd or 4th chance), after reported sexual misconduct. This allows doctors to continue practicing and does little to deter the wrongful conduct. How are patients supposed to react after going through the difficult process of reporting sexual harassment or misconduct?

This may be one reason why so few patients report sexual violations. According to one study, fewer than 1 in 10 victims report patient-doctor sexual violations. The lack of follow-up by medical boards may provide a reasonable basis for why victims fail to come forward. Patients may also feel shame, worry they will not be taken seriously, face victim-blaming, or not being sure whether abuse actually occurred because of the effects of anesthesia.

Patient Neglect 

Patient neglect can be a sign of professional negligence but it is often related to overall systemic problems. Harmful patient neglect can be more common in long-term and residential healthcare facilities, like nursing homes or residential care facilities. Staffing is a common problem in nursing homes. The healthcare industry likes to place blame on a lot of other factors but a primary motivator for these for-profit facilities is money. 

Many nursing homes are looking to cut costs wherever possible and the easiest target is staffing. Nursing homes try to maximize their basic minimum levels of care while minimizing staff numbers and hours. This leaves the few nurses, support staff, and doctors stretched thin. These employers even try to limit overtime when there is no other way to provide care to the existing patients. 

Inadequate Record Keeping

Record keeping is an important part of health care because it may be the only way to keep track of the care provided to a patient, when the care was provided, and how the care was documented. Any patient who has received medical care for more than a few hours is likely to see a change in caregivers over that time. There are hand-off procedures that ensure continuous communication between caregivers to make sure the doctors and other staff assigned to a patient understand how to monitor and care for a patient that came in under another doctor’s care. 

Records are also important to be able to identify possible medical malpractice. Without documentation, there would be little to no evidence of the type of care a patient received. For example, if a nurse administered 100 mL of a drug instead of the prescribed 10 mL, that documentation of the amount of drug administered may be the only evidence that the patient was given the improper dosage. Without a record, the nurse could simply say they gave the patient the correct amount of the drug. 

Medical records are an important resource in a medical malpractice case because the records paint a picture of the care given to a patient over the period of treatment. When a medical expert reviews the record to identify areas of negligence or deviations from the standards of care, the medical records provide important information to identify where the care went wrong. This information can also be used in questioning the doctors about the type of care provided and why the doctor deviated from what other doctors would have done under similar circumstances. 

Failing To Meet Continuing Medical Education Requirements

Continuing education requirements are often part of maintaining any professional licensing, even lawyers, chiropractors, and massage therapists have to keep up with education requirements. Some doctors think of this as a burden but it can help to make sure doctors stay up to date with the latest medical developments, licensing requirements, and healthcare technology. When doctors fail to keep informed of medical advances, it could put their patients at a serious disadvantage. 

Dishonesty During the License Application Process

Lying on a license application is supposed to be grounds for denial. However, if the licensing board is not aware of the dishonesty, they may unknowingly admit a doctor to practice without knowing the full picture. Because each state has its own licensing boards, doctors who lose their license in one state may be able to get a license to practice in other states. Hospitals and clinics hiring doctors should do their due diligence in looking into the background of new doctors to review prior disciplinary measures, even if the doctor does have a license to practice. 

Fraud and Felony Convictions

Felony convictions are serious offenses that carry the possibility of more than a year in prison. Convictions for felony crimes or fraud may show serious judgment problems with a doctor in making the wrong decisions for personal gain. If you had a doctor who was convicted of Medicare fraud, drugs prescription fraud, or domestic violence, you have second doubts about undergoing invasive surgery by a convicted felony. Medical boards should take criminal allegations seriously and prevent doctors convicted of fraud from operating on unsuspecting patients, putting them at risk of fraud and other serious dangers. 

Failing To Meet the Accepted Standard of Care In a State

Failing to exercise the standard of care is a primary element of a medical malpractice claim. The standard of care sets a minimum level of responsibility. A breach of the standard of care is deviating from the level of care that any other reasonable doctor in the same field with similar qualifications would provide. The medical standard of care of a doctor or specialist can be based on

  • Degree of skill
  • Degree of care
  • Education and learning
  • Practice area
  • Medical community

Breaching the standard of care that causes an injury to a patient should be enough for the medical board to review a doctor’s actions, and determine whether the breach was enough to censure the doctor, suspend their license, or permanently revoke their right to practice law in the state. 

Take Action to Protect Your Legal Rights

Unfortunately, patients cannot rely on the medical board to protect them from negligent doctors. Patients may have to take matters into their own hands by filing a medical malpractice lawsuit. Medical boards are made up of fellow doctors who may not be as proactive in taking dangerous doctors out of practice. A medical malpractice lawsuit that holds a negligent doctor accountable for their mistakes may be a strong motivator for hospitals and clinics to keep dangerous doctors away from patients.  

If you were injured because of a suspected medical mistake, don’t wait for the medical board to take action. You have the right to compensation after suffering a medical injury caused by malpractice. Our attorneys have a lot of experience in medical malpractice claims because they focus on just these types of cases. With the right legal team on your side, you will have the resources to help you recover damages after a medical injury. Contact Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.


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