Doctors must often grapple with difficult situations. You see people at their neediest and most vulnerable. Their families turn to you for hope and answers, and sometimes you can’t offer them what they want. Other times, you may worry an angry family member will file a malpractice suit.

No one wants to tell a patient she’s dying. No one wants to tell a patient’s family that there’s nothing more they can do. Situations like these can lead to tricky ethical problems. And these ethical conundrums can easily explode. An angry family member or a concerned colleague could file a complaint with the Medical Board of California. You could face a full-blown investigation.

Anyone can file a complaint

As the Medical Board notes, anyone can file a complaint. Simultaneously, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time. So, there’s a very good chance you’ll be the subject of a complaint at some point. However, there’s a big difference between finding yourself the target of a complaint and facing discipline. You can help your case by responding appropriately at each juncture.

It may help to understand how complaints are filed and can lead to investigations. As the Medical Board states:

  • People can file complaints either online or by mailing in their completed forms
  • When the Board receives a complaint, it gathers the appropriate medical records and your response, plus any other records it may need to check if you broke the law
  • After it gathers this information, the Board forwards the complaint to an expert reviewer who explores the case for any ways you may have failed to adhere to the standards for care
  • Depending on the reviewer’s findings, the Board may close the complaint
  • If the Board finds cause for further review, it may open an investigation

Naturally, it can be stressful to learn about complaints because they can lead to investigations. And it can be hard to deal with an investigation, because the Attorney General’s could come out of it and file an accusation. That could lead you to an administrative hearing with your license on the line.

How you can help

The best place to help your case is at the beginning—during your patient care. As Medscape notes, there are ways you can reduce the risk of fall-out from even the trickiest ethical dilemmas.

After that, you want to make the most of each of your interactions with the complaint process. Rather than getting stressed or taking offense, you can view each interaction as a chance to make your case as clearly and effectively as possible.

Don’t be scared into taking bad shortcuts

Complaints and investigations can lead to a great deal of unwanted stress, but it’s important to give the process its due. The mistakes you make during the complaint process can come back to haunt you. Instead, you can help your cause by taking the time to respond honestly, accurately and with enough information for others to understand your actions.

Your ethical dilemmas may lead to angry patients and families no matter what you do. But when you do the right thing, the complaint process offers you plenty of time to sort things out.

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