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When patients complain to the medical board: How to respond

You can't control whether or not a patient files a complaint with the medical board -- but you can control your response. A proper response can make dealing with a complaint much easier and even get it dismissed. An ill-considered response can do just the opposite and cause the problems you face to escalate.

That's the message that experts are sending doctors who receive notice of a complaint through their medical board. There's definitely a right way and a wrong way to handle a patient's complaint.

If you want to get it right, make sure that you do the following:

Get representation

This isn't the time to represent yourself, even if you're sure you're innocent of any wrongdoing. Many malpractice insurances will provide coverage for representation -- but even if they don't, you want someone to help you present your case. It's easy to get emotional when your professional license is on the line -- and you need a clear-headed response.

Respond promptly

Don't put off your response to the medical board's inquiry. Consult with your attorney to craft a professional response that explains the situation and make sure that it's returned in a timely manner. That has the potential of stopping the investigation from going any further, while ignoring it will only result in further inquiries and heightened suspicion that you're hiding something.

Provide relevant records

If the board requests documentation, make sure that you provide it -- but don't forward boxes of irrelevant records that have nothing to do with the complaint in the hopes that the board's reviewers will just throw up their hands and surrender. It won't happen and the board will wonder why you can't provide a clearer response. Include a timeline and tag the documentation as needed to draw attention to the most important parts.

Stay calm

One of the hardest things to do is to keep your emotions in check during an actual hearing. If it gets that far, go in prepared. Don't let your anger get the better of you -- remember that the members of the board are doing their jobs. Don't bash the patient either, even if the whole complaint is unfair. A professional demeanor goes a long way with the board.

Patient complaints are an unfortunate reality -- but they don't have to disrupt your practice or your life if you handle them correctly.

Source: Journal of Medicine, "4 Things Not to Do at a Medical Board Hearing," Anne L. Finger, MA, accessed March 23, 2018

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