What Health Care Practitioners Need to Know Before Signing a Consent Order
As a health care practitioner, any dispute with a state licensing board is nerve-wracking. You may be accused of misconduct on any number of grounds—some or all of which you may refute—and be faced with penalties threatening your career and livelihood. If the Department of Health presents you with a consent order to settle the matter completely, you may be tempted to immediately sign it and put the dispute behind you. Do not sign the order without consulting legal counsel. Simply signing the consent order may result in unexpected long-term negative effects on your health care practice.
What Exactly Is a Consent Order?
A consent order is an agreed-upon final order of discipline and has its benefits. More than anything, it provides you with an opportunity to ensure that the order accurately describes your conduct, does not overstate or mischaracterize your conduct or issue, and may provide you with an opportunity to negotiate the language used in the order. However, a consent order will become a part of your disciplinary history and your licensure record indefinitely. The Tennessee Department of Health issues a monthly release on its website, listing all disciplinary actions taken by the health-related boards during the prior month. Even more importantly, disciplinary actions taken against you will be posted to the National Practitioner Data Bank, which most health care employers and insurance companies across the country access.
Private insurers, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, pay close attention to the disciplinary action reports and the National Practitioner Data Bank. Disciplinary action may provide grounds for the insurance company to de-credential a provider. In our experience, it is very difficult to add context or dispute the language of the consent order after the fact. Therefore, the simple act of resolving an issue with the Licensing Board may result in losing your privileges with private insurers in Tennessee.
What to Do Following a Complaint or Pending Allegations/Charges
Receiving notice of pending allegations or charges against you can often come as a surprise. The original complaint filed against you is confidential and will not be disclosed to you. The subsequent investigation report is also confidential. What you may receive is a letter from the Department of Health or Licensing Board requesting an interview and then a letter notifying you of the outcome of the investigation. If the investigation determines that formal charges against you are appropriate, you will be given an opportunity for an administrative hearing. Unfortunately, you still will not have access to the underlying complaint and documentation originally submitted to the board to prepare for a hearing. However, you will be able to present your side of the story. If a violation is found following a hearing, an informal letter of correction may be issued by the Licensing Board, or the file will be referred to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Office of the General Counsel for consideration of formal disciplinary actions. At any point following the investigation, you may be presented with the consent order.
Before You Sign a Consent Order
It is critical to consult with an attorney prior to signing any consent order. As a client of Chambliss, we can defend you during your hearing and ensure you put forth your best case, assist you with the negotiation process, and ensure that any final order accurately reflects the conduct at issue to limit any negative consequences downstream. Our Chambliss team has successful experience representing leading health care practitioners before the Licensing Board. It is important not to delay seeking legal assistance.