Filing a Complaint: Taking Action Against a Problematic Doctor

How to File an Online Complaint Against a Doctor

Sometimes patients sue their doctors over something as simple as poor bedside manner. While these lawsuits usually get thrown out of court, they still have consequences for the doctor.

Medical professionals should strive to improve communication skills, especially with their patients. This can help to reduce complaints. If you are not satisfied with the response from your medical professional, see Taking Your Complaint Further.

How to File a Complaint

If a physician commits misconduct that threatens the public health, you can file a complaint with your state medical board. In New York, the Office of Professional Medical Conduct within the Department of Health is responsible for investigating complaints and coordinating disciplinary hearings that may result from an investigation.

When the board investigates a complaint, it notifies the physician of the complaint and requests copies of any relevant records. This process usually takes a few months. Depending on the results of the investigation, the doctor can face a number of outcomes, including a reprimand, suspension of the license to practice medicine or a finding of probable cause for a malpractice lawsuit.

The Federation of State Medical Boards provides a database that includes information about physicians, such as their disciplinary histories. You can access this database by visiting the Physician Profile page. You can also try contacting a local medical society, which can help mediate between a member physician and a concerned patient.

Identifying the Problem

When you file a complaint with your state medical board, you must be prepared to provide extensive details regarding the incident. This information will be evaluated by a professional staff who determine whether there is a sufficient amount of evidence to warrant further investigation. The doctor may be asked to submit his medical records and/or have a telephone interview. Complaints that are too vague or do not include enough detail will be rejected by the disciplinary board.

If the disciplinary committee determines that there is cause for further investigation, the case will be referred to an investigative committee composed of two doctors and one layperson. After the investigation is complete, the doctor’s name will be included in a physician discipline database available online. The committee can recommend further investigation, a hearing, dismissal or warnings that are not publicly available.

In many cases, the disciplinary process will not lead to any measurable impact. This is particularly true if the patient was offended by poor bedside manner and there is no evidence of medical malpractice.

Writing the Complaint

Once you have gathered all of the evidence and information about your situation, you can begin writing your letter to the medical board. You should start the letter describing the professional standards that your doctor is expected to adhere to, and then clearly state the specific behavior that you believe violates these standards.

Be sure to include a time frame within which you expect the doctor to respond to your complaint, and also note that you are considering legal action if you don’t hear back by this date. This helps to make your letter sound more serious and professional.

After receiving your letter, the medical board staff will review it and determine whether or not to continue with an investigation. This process may involve contacting you, requesting your medical records and reviewing other data about the physician. In some cases, an outside board-certified physician will be asked to review the medical records as well. If the medical board concludes that your complaint does not meet the criteria for medical misconduct, your case will be closed.

Filing the Complaint

Mistakes by doctors can have tragic consequences, especially when they cause death or additional pain and suffering for patients. In these cases, it may be appropriate to file a medical malpractice complaint.

After a written complaint is received, it is reviewed by investigative and medical staff at the OPMC. Complaints remain confidential until there is sufficient evidence to support a charge of misconduct.

If the complaint is supported by enough evidence, it goes to a Board hearing committee—usually made up of two doctors and a layperson—to decide whether a doctor has committed medical misconduct. The committee also decides on a penalty, which can range from a warning to removal of the doctor’s license. Depending on the outcome, the doctor’s name may be added to the Physician Data Center.

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