When Do I Need a Healthcare Attorney?

Responding to an Investigation by the Virginia Department of Health Professions

Scene: You’re a clinician. You are opening your mail one day, and there is a letter from the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP), Board of [Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, etc.]. The letter states that they have received a complaint about your professional practices. DHP is investigating this complaint and is asking you to respond to the allegations.

What do you do next?

If you are like most people, you’re thinking goes something like this: The Board is simply asking you some questions and, most likely, asking that you provide copies of some documentation. Plus, you are confident you did nothing wrong. You may not even recall much about the situation in question. Of course, a Board complaint is a big deal, but this part seems harmless/easy enough. You just respond and tell them what happened, right? Besides, no one likes having to deal with lawyers.[1]

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The thought process above is an extremely common one and quite understandable, especially given that the recipients of these letters are educated clinicians. An additional driving factor is the innate belief: I didn’t do anything wrong. All I have to do is explain that, and everything will be fine. Even in situations where a licensee may, in fact, be aware that he/she made a mistake, there is often that inner voice saying, “Everyone makes mistakes. The important thing is that no one was hurt. The Board must understand that no one is perfect. Most of them are clinicians. You can’t tell me none of them have ever made a mistake.”

The reality, however, is this: (1) An effective response is not as straightforward as it may seem; and (2) this response is your earliest official opportunity to nip the matter in the bud, and it may be your best chance of doing so.

Hiring a healthcare attorney to assist in the preparation of your response to a complaint investigation by DHP can improve your chances of resolving the complaint at the investigation stage, incidentally saving you money in the long run. Even if the allegations are not fully resolved and the matter is not concluded following the investigation, the written response can serve to resolve certain issues and remove them from further consideration. This, too, can be a significant benefit, particularly considering the stress of appearing before representatives of the Board to address any remaining issues.

There are also a number of reasons why it is particularly important to engage an experienced healthcare attorney. For one thing, we know the lingo. Healthcare lawyers speak the language of healthcare every day. You will not need to spend time and money explaining to a healthcare attorney what the medical records mean. Another important distinction is that Board responses and proceedings tend to be quite different from traditional courtroom pleadings and trials. Even aspects that may appear similar on the surface can call for different approaches and techniques that can make for a more (or less) effective approach when dealing with the Boards.

Keep in mind, hiring an attorney to assist you in crafting a response to a Board investigation cannot guarantee a positive outcome. However, doing so can improve your chances of resolving the matter more expeditiously and effectively than attempting to go it alone.

We hope you don’t, but should you ever find yourself in the scene described at the outset of this post, please contact Nixon Law Group for assistance.

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[1] Unless, of course, you ask a Nixon Law Group client