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The Board is authorized to mete out a wide range of public disciplinary actions that limit, suspend or even revoke the right to practice. A medical license is revoked only in the most serious cases where the provider’s conduct or level of competence is considered to pose a significant threat to public health and safety. Far more often, the Board acts to restrict the license by imposing conditions aimed at preventing future problems. For example, a physician disciplined for prescribing narcotic painkillers without adequately documenting the need or taking steps to prevent addiction might be barred from prescribing such drugs for a set period and required to complete continuing medical education on managing chronic pain. In some cases, the Board determines no action against the provider’s license is warranted but issues a public letter of concern. All final disciplinary actions are noted on the Board’s Web site.
Only about one percent of the 1,200 complaints received annually result in public action being taken against the provider’s license. Often when no action is taken, it is because no violation of the Medical Practice Act has occurred and the matter is therefore not actionable. In another 30 percent of cases, the complaint leads to private discipline, such as a confidential letter expressing the Board’s concern and cautioning against similar conduct in future. When no formal action is taken, the Board keeps a copy of the complaint in its permanent file. This file is an important resource that helps the Board track providers over time and detect patterns of behavior that might warrant future intervention.
Complaints are most often resolved in one of three ways.
Here is a brief description of the complaint review process:
The Board has found that some licensees choose to dismiss patients who file complaints. Provided they follow all appropriate laws and guidelines, this is within the provider’s rights.
Most likely, no. The Board does not intervene on behalf of individual patients. Rather, it acts for the people of North Carolina at large. When the Board takes action against a provider, that action is aimed at preventing future problems and protecting future patients. Your complaint, therefore, can play a significant part in protecting the people of North Carolina from incompetent, unqualified, or unethical practitioners.
Many issues that are important to consumers do not fall within the Board’s jurisdiction because no violation of the Medical Practice Act is present. Dismissal from a medical practice, provided it complies with Board guidelines, does not violate the Act. Many financial and interpersonal issues also are outside the Board’s reach. The Board cannot help a patient sue a provider for money, settle fee disputes, resolve issues about disability ratings and compensation or mediate personality conflicts among patients, doctors and office staff.
The Board is authorized to act only on complaints that may involve a violation of the Medical Practice Act, a state law that covers a wide range of misconduct. Three types of cases account for more than half of the Board’s public actions against providers: quality of care, prescribing (either self-prescribing or improperly prescribing to others) and cases where a provider is impaired due to alcohol or substance abuse. Many other disciplinary cases fall under the broad category of “unprofessional or unethical conduct”, such as violating patient confidentiality, misrepresenting professional credentials or practicing without an active medical license. Problems with medical recordkeeping and sexual misconduct or other boundary violations account for many cases as well.