When the Department of Health, Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC) sends a physician a letter about an issue, that letter usually states that the medical practice of the physician is being “investigated”. That word, “investigated”, is extremely significant because it can lead to some very unpleasant consequences.
The problem starts when the physician is filling out the seemingly routine paperwork to have his/her hospital privileges renewed, an event that usually happens every two years. I have seen a renewal packet that is 15 pages long with dozens of questions which have to be answered by checking a box. Buried deep in those many pages is often a question like this; “Since your last renewal, have you been disciplined by any state agency or are you currently under investigation?” Since the doctor has filled this form out every two years for perhaps over 25 years, the tendency is to simply check all of the blocks “no” and get this document off of the desk. Or, better yet, have the secretary fill it out on the theory that the doctor has important things to do and this form is simply unnecessary bureaucracy at work. This is a very large mistake.
Don’t just sign paperwork
This issue can turn deadly if, in fact, OPMC is “investigating” the doctor’s practice. If that is so, the answer to “are you being investigated” should be “yes”. But too many people simply do not put these two things together, give a “no” and things go awry.
Let us just say that OPMC sent an “you are being investigated” letter to a doctor in July of 2016 and the subject matter concerns itself with an allegation of inappropriate prescribing of narcotics to a patient. Let us also assume that there was an OPMC interview with the doctor in September of 2016, OPMC does not contact the doctor over the next four months and the time to renew the doctor’s privileges comes up in January of 2017. The doctor may either assume that the matter is over, due to the fact that there has been no contact with OPMC since that interview in September of 2016, or that this was solely an office issue which had nothing to do with hospital work. According to this doctor, a “no” answer may seem completely justifiable. The problem arises when OPMC obtains a copy of the privileges renewal questionnaire and takes the position that the doctor was, in fact, lying to the hospital when this form was filled out. Now, not only could the doctor be charged with misconduct over the narcotics issue, he or she now must also defend against unprofessional conduct regarding a charge of falsifying information on the form with the “intent to deceive.” This charge is very difficult to defend against as it goes directly to moral character.
So, the moral of this story is to be cautious of the answers you provide on all forms and inquiries regarding your profession. This applies to most situations, including, but not limited to, the reappointment form, application for malpractice insurance and application to be on the provider lists of HMOs. Being truthful is the only way to go. The wrong answer might be viewed as lying and that can truly put your license in jeopardy.