A Legislative Remedy Would Ensure Fairness for Physicians Cleared of Complaints

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2019

Capitol-Harrisburg-flagPhysicians practicing in Pennsylvania are often required, if asked, to disclose whether their license has ever been subject to an investigation or complaint by their licensing board, even when the Department of State (DOS) has determined the complaint lacks merit and has taken no action against the physician.

Legislation introduced by Rep. Curtis Sonney (Erie) – House Bill 1743 – seeks to remedy this flaw by ensuring that physicians are no longer required to acknowledge the existence of a complaint against their medical license when the complaint was closed without any formal action.

It is important to note that the bill does not absolve physicians from disciplinary action nor does it dissuade a thorough investigation of filed complaints. Additionally, the bill still requires disclosure if otherwise required by another law.

Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) Advocacy

At PAMED’s 2016 House of Delegates (HOD) meeting, our member delegates voted to direct PAMED to find a remedy for physicians whose complaints have been closed without disciplinary action by the State Board of Medicine or State Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Since 2016, PAMED has been working to educate lawmakers about the complaint process and the importance of a remedy for this issue.

How the Complaint Process Works Now

  • When physician complaints are made, the DOS, Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, initiates and investigation through its Bureau of Enforcement and Investigation (BEI).
  • While physicians are notified that a complaint has been filed against them, they are prohibited from receiving any information about the complaint because the nature of the complaint and the investigational details are confidential, unless and until formal disciplinary actions are justified. 
  • In cases where the BEI determines that a complaint lacks merit, the case is closed, and the physician receives a letter informing them accordingly. This closure, however, comes with the caveat that the complaint is kept on file indefinitely and that BEI retains the option to re-open the case if further information is obtained.
  • When asked if their license has ever been subject to an investigation or complaint, physicians must continue to disclose this information, even if the complaint is determined to be meritless.
  • A physician cannot explain the nature of the closed complaint because investigational details are confidential.

Desired Effect of Proposed Bill on the Complaint Process

If the bill is enacted, physicians who are the subject of complaints found to be frivolous or without merit would no longer have to fear having their reputations permanently tarnished. As a result, the PAMED supports the bill and believes it will enable physicians to stay focused on what matters most – caring for patients.

PAMED thanks Rep. Sonney for his leadership on this issue.

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