Should You Respond to a letter from a DOH Investigator?
I often get calls to my law office from licensed health care professionals who have received a letter from an Investigator with the Florida Department of Health advising of a complaint that has been lodged against them. The letter goes on to invite them to submit a written response, within either twenty (20) or forty-five (45) days, or arrange an interview with the investigator.
Under Section 456.073 (1), Florida Statutes, a health care professional that is the subject of an investigation may submit a written response to the information contained in the complaint. Alternatively, the Investigators may offer to meet with the licensee or interview them over the phone. Note: Any response given to the Investigator, whether written or verbal, may be considered by the probable cause panel.
A Word of Caution: I generally advise health care professionals to seek legal advice first rather than talk with the investigator or submit a written response. If you remember the old TV crime shows where the police advise the suspect that you have the right to remain silent and that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a Court of law”—the same is true for investigations brought by the Department of Health against licensed health care professionals in Florida.
I am often amazed at how many well-educated health care professionals choose to speak first to the DOH Investigator before seeking legal advice. Oftentimes, they say “Well, the Investigator was real nice on the phone, so I told them what happened and the Investigator said they were wrapping up their report.” Then, the health care licensee is amazed that an Administrative Complaint or Emergency Suspension Order is filed against them months later. Often, what you tell the DOH Investigator becomes part of the charges that are brought against you.
What are the Implications of a DOH Investigation and Disciplinary Action?
1. Discipline is reported to the National Practitioner Data Bank or Healthcare Integrity and Protection Data Bank;
2. Potential loss of affiliations with third party payors;
3. Discipline cases/investigations by other States where the licensee holds a license;
4. Possible obligations to report discipline to other states, insurance companies, and facilities;
5. Impact on professional malpractice insurance rates;
6. Potential action by DEA;
7. Posting of discipline on the DOH website for public view.
How you handle an investigation against you at the early stages may adversely affect the end result. In summary, there are three important lessons to learn from this post:
1. Speak with an experienced health care attorney if you receive a letter from the Florida Department of Health inviting you to respond to a complaint;
2. Do not write a response or speak to an Investigator before you have reviewed the case with an experienced health care attorney; and
3. An Investigation or Disciplinary case, not handled right from the beginning may have adverse consequences for you in a number of ways.
If you have received a letter from DOH notifying you that a complaint has been made against your license you may schedule a free no obligation consultation with me by contacting my office at 850-877-7776.