Discipline at the Texas Medical Board (Board) is a complaint driven process- meaning that every investigation opened by the Board’s investigators results from the filing of a complaint. The Board receives roughly 6,000 complaints each year, and they come from various sources, including patients, subsequent providers, competitors, former employees, and even the Board itself. Essentially, anyone can file a complaint with the Board, and the Board is required by law to investigate it.
According to Board rule 178.4(c), the complainant’s identity and the complaint itself are expressly confidential as part of the Board’s investigative file, unless the complainant signs a waiver of their confidentiality. A complaint can, therefore, be filed against a physician without the physician knowing the identity of the complainant.
The anonymous complaint process unfortunately makes it easy for a bad-faith complainant to use the Medical Board’s disciplinary process to attack other physicians whether they are rivals to the complainant’s practice or have a former employment relationship. Both in my own practice and through discussions with other attorneys, I have encountered other instances where a complaint appears to have originated from an insurer seeking to use the Board as leverage in a payment or coverage dispute with a physician. I have personally been involved in cases where an anonymous complaint originated from a disgruntled spouse. In any case, the Board’s anonymous complaint process generally immunizes the complainant from scrutiny or consequences should a complaint be filed in bad faith. Additionally, without their identity, the targeted physician is often precluded from presenting clear evidence of bad-faith or motive on the part of the complainant. Moreover, because anonymous complaints frequently originate from persons with a medical background who are also familiar, sometimes intimately so, with a licensee’s practice, they can be crafted in such a way to cause significant damage to the target physician.
The political process has thus far provided no relief from the anonymous complaints process. Two bills have been introduced in the Legislature to change the complaint process and make it more transparent. The Bills, House Bill 3816 introduced and presented to the 81st Legislature and House Bill 1013 presented to the 82nd, would have made it impossible for the Board to accept anonymous complaints. The Bills would also have provided physicians better protection from Board claims of inadequate documentation and would prohibit Board discipline for incidents that occurred more than 7 years ago and for documentation errors that did not endanger the patient. To date, neither Bill has been passed, and so the concerns about anonymous Board complaints continue.
If you have received a complaint letter or investigation letter from the Board, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney to best evaluate your options. This is all the more so if you believe the complaint may have been filed in bad-faith as it has been my experience that these often come in a series with each subsequent complaint becoming increasingly difficult to address.