The 2011 regular Legislative Session resulted in a moderate reform of the Texas Medical Board’s disciplinary process. The Governor signed House Bill 680 into law on June 17, 2011. The modest reform measures that were ultimately included in HB 680 are not likely to satisfy the longtime proponents of Medical Board reform. A number of the more significant reform measures, like granting a jury trial for revoked physicians, and eliminating the confidentiality of complainants, were left on the cutting room floor. Below is a rundown of the legislative changes that were signed into law.
First, TMB can no longer consider a complaint that is based on care that was provided more than seven years prior to receipt of the complaint by the TMB. Like any statute of limitations, the seeming purpose behind this legislation would be to protect doctors from having to defend against stale complaints about care that was provided in the distant past. Memories fade. Records get shredded (they must be kept for a minimum of seven years according to TMB rules). This is a reasonable change and will decrease stale complaints, but complaints like this are not very common.
Second, TMB can no longer accept anonymous complaints. Some clarification is needed here. This is saying that the Texas Medical Board can no longer accept complaints in which the complainant’s identity is unknown to the TMB. The TMB can still keep the identities of complainants confidential from the physician, if the complainant so chooses. Like the first reform, this will not have a very far-reaching effect since this type of anonymous complaint makes up about 2% of all complaints. Should the complaint go to litigation the attorney representing the physician may be able to pierce the veil of anonymity if the case is to proceed to trial.
Third, a physician taking part in an Informal Settlement Conference (ISC) with the TMB may now request that the proceeding be recorded. The recording would remain part of the TMB’s investigatory file, and would thereby be confidential. Presumably this record of the meeting would act as a check on any inclination the Board might have towards bullying the physician or acting in some way that would seem to be an abuse of their power. The ISC is a legal proceeding in which a semblance of due process is afforded to the physician. At some point the recording may also be helpful should an Agreed Order be presented to the doctor that does not reflect what the panel recommended. Additionally, if the complainant waived their anonymity and made a statement to the ISC panel while being assisted by the Board’s Staff attorney this statement may become relevant if it is contradicted at a later point in the disciplinary process.
Fourth, TMB must inform the physician when a complaint is filed by an insurance or pharmaceutical company, and must disclose the name and address of the insurance company or pharmaceutical company to the physician upon receipt of the complaint.
Finally, after a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH), TMB must issue a final Order that implements the Administrative Law Judge’s findings of fact and conclusion of law. The discretion remains with the TMB as to what the appropriate action or sanction should be if a violation is found.