Tag Archives: attorney

Disruptive Physicians: Nobody Likes a Nuisance

IndestBy George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law and Christopher E. Brown, J.D., The Health Law Firm

Identifying and eliminating disruptive physicians has become a paramount concern of many hospitals and healthcare systems. Disruptive physicians hinder the safe and orderly operation of a healthcare facility and are considered a threat to the safety of patients. Disruptive behavior can impact staff morale and can increase the risk of liability to all employers.

A recent New York case demonstrates this. According to a journal for surgeons, a New York doctor is being held responsible for an ongoing worker’s compensation bill as the result of a violent outburst he directed toward a physician assistant (PA). The physician allegedly lost his temper during an open-heart surgery when the physician assistant accidentally suctioned some heart tissue. The physician allegedly threatened that he would “throw the physician assistant through the wall” if it happened again.

The physician assistant has claimed that the threat deeply affected her ability to perform her job, as well as put the patient’s safety at risk. A psychologist diagnosed the PA with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the incident. Unable to work because of the trauma allegedly caused by the disruptive physician, the PA now reportedly collects $2,415 a week in workers’ compensation.

To read the full article from Outpatient Surgery, click here.

Implications of Disruptive Behavior.

Disruptive behavior from a physician can lead to dire consequences for both the physician and his or her employer. Lawsuits and liabilities, such as those in the New York case discussed above, can detract from a safe, cooperative, and professional healthcare environment.

Disruptive behavior can negatively affect the quality of patient care. Hospitals claim that this happens because of conduct that:

-    Disrupts or impedes the operations of the hospital;

-    Adversely affects the ability of others on the healthcare team to do their jobs;

-    Creates an unprofessional or hostile work environment for hospital employees;

-    Interferes with coworkers’ ability to practice competently;

-    Prevents effective communications among healthcare providers and staff;

-    Disrupts the continuity of care a patient receives; and

-    Adversely affect the community’s confidence in the hospital’s ability to provide quality patient care.

Being accused of being a disruptive physician may lead to adverse action against clinical privileges, action to drop the physician from insurance panels, consequential action by the state medical board or licensing authority, loss of specialty certification, termination of employment contracts and other various consequences.

What Conduct May Cause One to be Labeled a Disruptive Physician?

A hospital’s creed, ethical statement, or code of conduct, as well as Joint Commission Standards, and medical staff bylaws can define what constitutes disruptive behavior. Case reports, hospital policies and actual cases in which we have defended physicians demonstrate the types of acts that can be used to label a person as “disruptive.” Disruptive behavior includes, but is not limited to:

-    Verbal attacks that are personal, irrelevant to hospital operations, or exceed the bounds of professional conduct;

-    Shouting, yelling, or the use of profanity;

-    Verbally demeaning, rude or insulting conduct, including exhibiting signs of disdain or disgust;

-    Inappropriate physical conduct, such as pushing, shoving, grabbing, hitting, making obscene gestures, or throwing objects;

-    Inappropriate comments or illustrations made in patient medical records or other official documents, impugning the quality of care in hospital facilities, or attacking particular medical staff members, personnel, or policies;

-    Belittling remarks about the patient care provided by the hospital or any healthcare provider in the presence or vicinity of patients or their families;

-    Non-constructive criticism that is addressed to the recipient in such a way as to intimidate, undermine confidence, belittle, or imply stupidity or incompetence;

-    Refusal to accept, or disparaging or disgruntled acceptance of, medical staff assignments;

-    Inappropriately noisy or loud behavior in patient areas;

-    Making sexual or racial jokes;

-    Physically touching another professional, nurse or staff member, especially those of the opposite sex;

-    Making sexually suggestive remarks;

-    Commenting on another person’s body parts;

-    Threatening violence to another;

-    Throwing surgical equipment, medical supplies, charts, or anything else at or around anyone else; or

-    Other disruptive, abusive, or unprofessional behavior.

I previously wrote a two-part blog series detailing the types of conduct considered disruptive, as well as the consequences associated with disruptive behavior and how you as a physician can avoid such pitfalls. To read part one of the blog series, click here. To read part two of the blog series, click here.

Physicians: Proactively Educate Yourself.

It’s wise to review your hospital’s or institution’s policies on disruptive behavior. Arming yourself with the knowledge necessary to avoid such accusations is imperative in protecting your reputation and career.

No one lives in a glass house, but pretend you do. Someone can always observe your actions in the office or hospital. Once you have been labeled a disruptive physician, others may be closely, at times, scrutinizing you for anything you may do wrong. You will make yourself a target for possible false allegations and accusations. The healthcare industry is a demanding and stressful field. It’s understandable that potential outbursts can occur; control yourself and don’t let them.

Comments?

Have you ever been accused of being a disruptive physician? Have you ever been around one? What are some proactive tactics physicians can take to prevent any outbursts or behavioral conduct that would be deemed as disruptive? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced with Investigations of Health Professionals and Providers.

The attorneys of The Health Law Firm provide legal representation to physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, CRNAs, dentists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health providers in accusations of disruptive behavior, Department of Health (DOH) investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) investigations, FBI investigations, Medicare investigations, Medicaid investigations and other types of investigations of health professionals and providers.

To contact The Health Law Firm please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Source:

Burger, Jim. “Doc Threatens Physician’s Assistant During Open Heart Surgery: I’m Going to Put Your Through the Wall.” Outpatient Surgery. (July 14, 2014). From: http://www.outpatientsurgery.net/surgical-facility-administration/legal-and-regulatory/doc-threatens-physician-s-assistant-during-open-heart-surgery-i-m-going-to-put-you-through-the-wall–07-14-14

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.

Copyright © 1996-2014 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Agency Attorney Prosecuting Case Should Not Also Be in Position of Advising The Agency; Possible Bias Denies Due Process

McAlpin appealed an order of the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (“Commission”) suspending his law enforcement certification for eighteen months. The Commission filed an administrative complaint alleging misconduct during the course of a criminal investigation. A formal administrative hearing was held and a recommended order was issued.

At the Commission hearing to consider the recommended order, the attorney who prosecuted the case against McAlpin was present and offered advice to the Commission. The Commission’s staff had prepared a memorandum to the Commission recommending an increase in the recommended penalty to revocation of McAlpin’s license. It was not clear who prepared the staff memorandum. However, it was clear the prosecuting attorney had prepared exceptions to the recommended order for the agency.

On appeal, the court reversed and remanded for a new Commission hearing. While the Commission did not ultimately adopt the agency’s recommendation of an increased penalty, the court held that the staff attorney’s enhanced access to the Commission undermined the Commission’s function as an unbiased reviewer of the recommended order.

The court did note that it was not inherently inappropriate to consolidate investigative, prosecutorial and adjudicatory authority in a single agency. Each case must be considered on its unique factual background.

Source:

McAlpin v. Criminal Justice Standards and Training Comm’n, 120 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)(Opinion filed September 13, 2013).

About the Author: The forgoing case summary was prepared by Mary F. Smallwood, Esquire, of the Administrative Law Section of The Florida Bar. It originally appeared in the Administrative Law Section newsletter, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Dec. 2013).

 

MedPAC Wants to Hold Accountable Care Organizations More Accountable

Lance Leider headshotBy Lance O. Leider, J.D., The Health Law Firm

As the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) prepares to designate the next class of accountable care organizations (ACOs), the agency sought the advice and input of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC) on how to proceed.  MedPAC is an independent Congressional Agency established to advise the U.S. Congress on issues affecting Medicare.

Click here to read our previous blog on the background and purpose of ACOs.

MedPAC Suggests All Medicare Shared Savings Program ACOs Join the Two-Sided Risk Model.

In response to the request from the CMS, MedPAC reiterated its previous position that it would like to see all Medicare ACOs take on greater financial risk.  As it presently stands, some Medicare-contracted ACOs do not share in the risks associated with the ACOs patients’ healthcare costs exceeding certain target ranges.  Even though those ACOs do not bear any financial risk if the goals are not met, they nevertheless stand to benefit if they are.

MedPAC found that the one-sided risk model being used by most Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP) ACOs to be insufficient to reach the goals of the MSSP.

Specifically, MedPAC wants to see all MSSP ACOs in the two-sided risk model.  That model requires the ACO to reimburse Medicare for some of the costs which exceeded the target ranges. This pressure is important to note because only 13 of the 32 Pioneer ACOs generated enough savings to Medicare to qualify for MSSP savings payments.

Understand an ACO Agreement Before You Sign.

As we see more and more physicians being approached to join or form ACOs, it is crucial to understand exactly what type of arrangement you are getting into.

Many ACO contracts we see are simply for participation as a provider in the organization.  However, some of the contracts we see require that the physician make a financial investment in the ACO or otherwise require that the physician pay a “pro rata” share of any penalty assessed by CMS.

Current ACO participation and recruiting is something akin to the gold rush of the nineteenth century.  Everyone is rushing to stake a claim in fear of being left out.  Be careful about what kind of an agreement you sign and be sure that you understand the long-term consequences of tying your practice to an as-yet unproven model. To read our previous blog on the first year pioneer ACO results, click here.

If you are approached to join an ACO, or are considering signing a participation agreement/contract with one, make sure to read the contract carefully and consult with an experienced healthcare attorney.

Contact Health Law Attorneys Experienced With Healthcare Business Practices.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents physician groups and practices with issues involving establishing, licensing, selling, merging, and intergroup affiliation.  If you are considering establishing an ACO or have been approached to become a participant in one, you can contact The Health Law Firm at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 or you can visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Comments?

What do you think of MedPAC’s position on ACOs? Have you considered joining an ACO? Why or why not? Please leave any thoughtful comments below.

About the Author: Lance O. Leider is an attorney with The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com  The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Avenue, Altamonte Springs, Florida 32714, Phone:  (407) 331-6620.

“The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) Attorneys, Lawyers and Defense Council in Florida

10 Indest-2008-7By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Often we learn after the fact that a health professional such as a mental health counselor, psychologist, or pharmacist has received Healthcare Providers Service Organization (HPSO) insurance, has had a legal problem, and has not been able to locate an attorney or law firm that accepts this type of insurance. We have offices in Florida and Colorado, but we have attorneys licensed in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Virginia and other states.

Additionally, we can provide legal advice and representation in license investigations and administrative proceedings in many other states.

If you have HPSO Insurance, do not go without an attorney or with a lawyer that has little or no experience where you need it. Contact us, and we will help you.

Don’t Worry About Legal Bills While Your Case is Going On.

Call us first. We can assist you in determining if your legal problem is covered by your insurance, and we can help you file a claim to have your legal defense expenses and costs covered. In most cases, we will accept the assignment of your insurance so that you do not have to worry about legal bills while your case is going on.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys That Will Work with Insurance Companies.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. We will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company, if your insurance company will allow this. Many of these insurers will pay our firm to represent you in the legal defense of an investigation or complaint against your professional (nursing, medical, dental, psychology, mental health counselor) license or for an administrative hearing involving professional discipline.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

The Doctors Company (TDC) Attorneys, Lawyers and Defense Council in Florida

Indest

By George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law

Often we learn after the fact that a health professional such as physicians, dentist and other health professionals has received The Doctors Company (TDC) Insurance, has had a legal problem, and has not been able to locate an attorney or law firm that accepts this type of insurance. We have offices in Florida and Colorado, but we have attorneys licensed in Florida, Colorado, Louisiana, the District of Columbia, Virginia and other states.

Additionally, we can provide legal advice and representation in license investigations and administrative proceedings in many other states.

If you have TDC Insurance, do not go without an attorney or with a lawyer that has little or no experience where you need it.
The Health Law Firm Will Work with You and Your Insurance Company.

Call us first. We can assist you in determining if your legal problem is covered by your insurance, and we can help you file a claim to have your legal defense expenses and costs covered. In most cases, we will accept the assignment of your insurance so that you do not have to worry about legal bills while your case is going on.

Contact Experienced Health Law Attorneys.

The Health Law Firm routinely represents pharmacists, pharmacies, physicians, nurses, dentists and other health providers in investigations, regulatory matters, licensing issues, litigation, inspections and audits involving the DEA, Department of Health (DOH) and other law enforcement agencies. Its attorneys include those who are board certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law as well as licensed health professionals who are also attorneys.

In cases in which the health care professional has professional liability insurance or general liability insurance which provides coverage for such matters, we will seek to obtain coverage by your insurance company and will attempt to have your legal fees and expenses covered by your insurance company. We will agree to take an assignment of your insurance policy proceeds in order to be able to submit our bills directly to your insurance company, if your insurance company will allow this. Many of these insurers will pay our firm to represent you in the legal defense of an investigation or complaint against your professional (nursing, medical, dental, psychology, mental health counselor) license or for an administrative hearing involving professional discipline.

To contact The Health Law Firm, please call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 and visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

About the Author: George F. Indest III, J.D., M.P.A., LL.M., is Board Certified by The Florida Bar in Health Law. He is the President and Managing Partner of The Health Law Firm, which has a national practice. Its main office is in the Orlando, Florida, area. www.TheHealthLawFirm.com The Health Law Firm, 1101 Douglas Ave., Altamonte Springs, FL 32714, Phone: (407) 331-6620.

The Health Law Firm” is a registered fictitious business name of George F. Indest III, P.A. – The Health Law Firm, a Florida professional service corporation, since 1999.
Copyright © 1996-2012 The Health Law Firm. All rights reserved.

Under Review: What You Need to Know About Clinical Privileges Hearings

The term “fair hearing” is used by different individuals and different organizations to refer to an administrative hearing or a private hearing in a hospital or professional association. There are a number of different types of proceedings that are often referred to as “fair hearings,” including clinical privileges (or peer review) hearings, which allow a physician who has had his or her clinical privileges revoked to be reviewed.

This type of hearing can also be referred to as:
• Privileges Hearing
• Fair Hearing
• Medical Review Hearing
• Credentials Hearing
• Medical Staff Hearing
• Disciplinary Hearing
• Credentials Committee Hearing or
• Ad Hoc Committee Hearing.

The physician that is subject to these hearings is not a Hospital employee, does not have a direct contract with the Hospital, is not a member of a group with an exclusive contract, but does have clinical privileges at the Hospital (based on proven clinical skills and competence to perform certain defined procedures in a hospital). When a hospital finds that a physician with clinical privileges is no longer competent (in the eyes of the hospital), a hearing will be conducted aimed at stripping the physician of his or her clinical privileges. This process (especially the litigation involved) can get ugly, and it is important for the physician in question to obtain the counsel of a health attorney who has experience in dealing with clinical privileges hearings.

Here is attorney George Indest’s basic rundown of clinical privileges hearings:

Indest’s Maxims for Hospital Peer Review Hearings

  1. The peer review process is different in every hospital.
     a. Medical staff bylaws are different.
     b. Hearings are different (attorneys may not even be able to participate).
     c. The burden of proof may be placed on the physician.
     d. Investigation and appeals process may be different.
  2. The hospital’s resources are virtually unlimited.
     a. Hospitals may use certain experienced companies as part of the process that have a tendency to favor the hospital.
     b. The hospital’s personnel and attorneys will do all of the work and provide all of the support for the medical staff and peer review committee.
     c. The hospital and medical staff will have unlimited access to hospital employees and documents.
  3. You need legal representation from the time of the first rumor you hear that a complaint has been filed or a matter is being investigated.
     a. DO NOT “wait and see what happens.”
     b. DO NOT think that you will be an exception.
  4. You must be represented by an experienced, knowledgeable health care attorney during the peer review process. The hospital will be.
  5. The “nonconformist” or “trouble maker” will be forced into a hearing situation. The guy everyone likes won’t be.
  6. If hospital administration (including nursing staff) is out to get you, you will be gotten.
     a. If the hospital administration identifies you as a “bad physician,” “troublemaker,” or “disruptive physician” you are in serious, serious trouble.
     b. Your prior cases may be reviewed and scrutinized retrospectively for problems that were “overlooked.”
     c. Every poor result or outcome will be analyzed.
     d. You will be written up for everything that happens, even for things for which others would not be written up. Incidents where you were just “joking around” will be written up as sexual harassment.
     e. Any patient complaints over insignificant matters that would have previously been handled in a routine way, will now be handled as significant events.
  7. You will probably be offered an opportunity to resign prior to the commencement of the investigation . . .
  8.  But you will foolishly turn down the opportunity to resign.
  9. There are many options and alternatives available early in the process, but only an experienced health care attorney will know them. Options may include:
     a. Agreement not to admit, treat or perform certain procedures;
     b. Taking a leave of absence;
     c. Assessment by an independent organization (P.A.C.E., C.C.A.T.);
     d. Agreement to undertake additional training; or
     e. Resignation (prior to any proceedings being commenced).
  10. A “fair hearing” is not fair.
     a. The resources are stacked in favor of the hospital and administration.
     b. Peer review proceedings are very expensive (for all parties).
     c. The burden may be and can be placed on you to prove you are currently clinically skilled and competent.
     d. There may be external motivations, other than quality (especially in cases of tenured professors, senior physicians and minorities). Certain motivations are economical in nature and can be identified by:
      i. Proceedings initiated by your competitors;
      ii. Complaints made by your competitors;
      iii. You allegedly bringing in too many cases (monopolizing the procedure rooms or operating rooms);
      iv. You bringing in the wrong cases (too many Medicare, etc.);
      v. One medical group controlling the whole department (in absence of an exclusive contract);
      vi. You being accused as an “overutilizer” (you use too many hospital resources);
      vii. You being accused as”cherry picking” the best cases (all non-indigent or non-Medicaid cases); or
      viii. You refusing to participate in managed care plans.
     e. If suspended pending investigation/hearing and the suspension goes over 30 days, then a report to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) is required (which means there will be a report to your state medical board or licensing authority).
     f. You may find the same individuals on:
      i. The Investigation Committee
      ii. The Peer Review/Hearing Committee
      iii. The Appeals Committee
      iv. The Board of Directors/Trustees (responsible for final recommendations)
     g. You may have a gag order and not be allowed to talk to witnesses or potential witnesses to help you prepare for your case.
  11. It may not matter what the peer review or fair hearing committee recommends.
     a. The Board of Directors/Trustees can and will overrule the conclusions and recommendations of any peer review hearing (with the input of hospital administration and hospital attorneys).
     b. The peer review committee must make solid, unequivocal findings supported by evidence, as well as, strong, precise well-reasoned conclusions and recommendations. Make sure that you ask them to do this and that you (or your attorney) present to them a proposed recommendation or report.
  12. Those who judge you are not your peers.
     a. They may be from all different specialities and some may not even by surgeons. (Try to have the hearing committee be appointed by your medical speciality association.)
  13. The only rights you have are those in your medical staff bylaws (unless you are at a “public hospital” or in California)
  14. The consequences to you of an adverse outcome will be lifelong and career-altering. Consequences include:
     a. National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) Reports, which are national, on file for 50 years, very difficult to get corrected or voided and also reported to your state medical board;
     b. State licensure action (in every state in which you have a license);
     c. Medical specialty associations will commence proceedings if they hear of an adverse outcome;
     d. You will unlikely ever get clinical privileges at another hospital;
     e. You may lose medical malpractice insurance coverage;
     f. You may be dropped from the panels of many HMOs, managed care plans and insurers;
     g. Contracts with employers and insurers may require you to report this (so that you can be terminated).
  15. Once a peer review proceeding is commenced, it’s not just going to go away, and none of your friends on the Executive Committee or Board of Trustees is going to make it go away.
  16. Once a peer review proceeding is commenced against you, you will be in the most important fight of your career and possibly your life.
  17. You have no power, no control and no leverage. Get some:
     a. Assemble an experienced legal team;
     b. Begin preparing early and seriously;
     c. Get established, credible experts;
     d. Sue the hospital and certain individuals involved, if circumstances permit;
     e. Consider “political” or “public relations” avenues like letters to other physicians or patients, full page newspaper ads, getting your state or county medical society involved, or having a state legislator introduce a bill to require due process in all hospital adverse actions.
  18. You are going to have to spend lots of money to properly defend yourself and you will not get it back if you win.
  19. If you think you will be successful in suing in court to have an incorrect result overturned, you are probably wrong.
  20. Court litigation can give you the leverage you need to obtain a favorable outcome on the peer review proceeding.

Indest’s Recommendations for the Subject of a Hospital Peer Review Hearing

  1. You must ensure that your medical staff bylaws contain true “due process” rights for accused physicians.
  2. You should attempt to have state legislation passed that requires all hospitals to afford physicians certain due process rights in peer review proceeding similar to what California has done.
  3. The Medical Staff should never allow hospital administration (or the hospital parent corporation) to force them to adopt medical staff bylaws changes which eliminate or limit the hearing rights or due process rights of a physician who may be the subject of an adverse decision.
  4. The peer review committee (fair hearing committee) should have its own independent legal advisor in all hearings. This must be someone other than from the law firm which represents the hospital.
  5. You must treat the peer review process like you would a civil trial against you for medical malpractice.
  6. If you are the subject of a peer review proceeding, immediately retain experienced, knowledgeable health care counsel to represent you.
  7. Also, immediately retain a litigation attorney who has experience in this type of civil litigation. File suit immediately if the matter is not proceeding fairly and in accordance with medical staff bylaws and state laws.
  8. If your hearing procedures/peer review procedures are not in your medical staff bylaws, make sure that both the medical staff bylaws and the hearing procedures state that the hearing procedures have the same force and effect as the medical staff bylaws.

If you are currently the subject of a peer review or clinical privileges hearing, call (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001 to speak with one of our health law attorneys. You can also visit our website at www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

What Does Proposed Liposuction Bill Mean For Florida Plastic Surgeons?

A new Florida bill aimed at making liposuction procedures safer is making its way through the Senate in Tallahassee. The bill was created as a result of the deaths of four South Florida mothers in their 30s during liposuction procedures, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Present state rules say physician surgery offices must be inspected by the state Department of Health or accrediting organizations, unless the doctor performs procedures using only local sedatives that leave the patient awake. Cosmetic surgeons who perform liposuctions using local sedatives such as lidocaine do not have to have their offices inspected.

The bill says that any liposuction that removes more than 1 liter of fat can only be done in a regulated office. This would cover most liposuctions. It would force most liposuctions to be done in surgery offices inspected by the state, by doctors with life-support training, not in unregulated physician offices.

However, some doctors think that the legislation doesn’t go far enough. It does not ban liposuction in physician surgery offices, as some proposed. It does not force med-spas to be regulated, as Sobel proposed in bills that failed in the past. It does not force doctors to use an anesthetist for all liposuctions.

The bill has cleared the Senate Health Regulation Committee and now goes to the Senate Budget Committee, where it is expected to pass. A similar bill is pending in the state House and no opponents have come out against it so far.

The bill was filed by state Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood in reaction to four South Florida liposuction deaths since 2009.

Maria Shortall, 38, died when her bloodstream was blocked by fat sucked from her midsection and reinjected into her buttocks at an unregulated physician office. Kellee Lee-Howard, 32, died of drug interactions in the hours after a liposuction at the same office, and Rohie Kah-Orukotan, 37, died of an overdose of lidocaine given during liposuction at an unregulated medical spa. Another Miami woman was killed from a fat blockage after liposuction at a licensed surgery center.

Disciplinary action is pending against the doctor involved in the first two cases; the doctor in the third case has surrendered his medical license. No disciplinary action has been taken in the fourth case.

According to the Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons, which backs the bill, it won’t be expensive for the state to regulate these offices. Additionally, the Florida Society of Plastic Surgeons hopes inspections will detect doctors who may be using local sedatives, such as lidocaine, for extensive liposuctions that should warrant stronger sedatives and more safety measures. Those measures include advanced life-saving training and having an assistant give anesthesia.

While no one has come out vehemently opposing the bill, if passed it will have some consequences for plastic surgeons who don’t update their practice to comply.

For more information about this and other health law topics, please visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) Update

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  This legislation made many reforms to the American health care system and with it came many changes that will affect both health care providers and consumers alike.  One such change brought about by this legislation was the elimination of the independent Health Integrity and Protection Data Bank (HIPDB), and its merger with the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB).  This will not affect the purpose of the federal government’s clearing house for disciplinary and malpractice information, but will forever change how the information is disseminated.

 To understand the changes, one must first know the history of the NPDB.  The NPDB was established by Title IV of Public Law 99-660, of the Health Care Quality Improvement Act of 1986.  Its purpose was to improve the quality of health care by encouraging State licensing boards, hospitals and other health care entities, and professional societies to identify and discipline those who engage in unprofessional behavior.  The NPDB has been expanded and revised a number of times, but its greatest expansion came on January 28, 2010, when the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule implementing Section 1921 of the Social Security Act. 

Prior to this the NPDB dealt only with licensure and malpractice reports of physicians, dentists, and health care entities. This new regulation expanded the information collected and disseminated through the NPDB to include reports on all licensure actions taken against all health care practitioners.

Like the NPDB, the HIPDB was created to improve the quality of healthcare in America.  The HIPDB was formed under the Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act of 1996 (HIPAA) and  specifically focused on combating fraud and abuse in health insurance and health care delivery, and promoting quality care.  The HIPDB collected reports made by federal and state licensing agencies, federal and state prosecutors, and federal and state government agencies that had excluded a practitioner, provider or supplier from their health plan.

The NPDB and the HIPDB were created to provide a resource for state licensing boards, hospitals, and other health care entities to assist them in their investigations of the qualifications of the healthcare practitioners they sought to license or hire.  These two data banks served this purpose independently of each other until the passing of PPACA on March 23, 2010.

Section 6403 of PPACA requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to maintain a national health care fraud and abuse data collection program for reporting certain adverse actions taken against health care providers, suppliers, and practitioners, and to submit information on the actions to the NPDB.  Section 6403 further requires the Secretary to establish a process to terminate the HIPDB and ensure that the information formerly collected in the HIPDB is transferred to the NPDB.

What does this mean to you?  Specifically, the NPDB has now become one large, all encompassing central data bank for all reports made against all health care professionals, whether the report deals with fraud, abuse, licensure actions, or malpractice.  The HIPDB has been eliminated as an independent data bank and in its place the Secretary of Health and Human Services has implemented a process in which all fraud and abuse reports will be collected and transferred to the NPDB.  Additionally, all information that was previously held in the HIPDB has been transferred to the NPDB.

For more information about the National Practitioner Data Bank and how it might impact you and your practice, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.

Florida’s Strike Force Raids Pain Management Physicians

Florida is reported to have one of the worst prescription drug abuse problems in the country. Because of this issue, pain management physicians have been under increasing scrutiny and attack by federal and state agencies.  If you are a pain management physician or you work in a pain a management clinic, you need to be aware of the measures that state and federal agencies are taking against doctors who practice pain management and the owners of pain management clinics.

A news release sent out by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) this summer discusses “inspections” of physicians’ offices across the state, allegedly to ensure compliance with Florida’s new prescription drug law (House Bill 7095).  However, many of these may be more aptly termed as “raids.”  These raids, under the guise of being inspections, have resulted in a massive quantity of narcotics being seized from clinics and physicians’ offices by the Strike Force. It is claimed that no search warrants are necessary as the Strike Force states it is performing an “administrative inspection.” The pain management physicians targeted by these inspections are identified based on their purchasing, prescribing and dispensing levels.

Often these “inspections” will include Department of Health Investigators, Florida Department of Law Enforcement Special Agents, local police and law enforcement agents, and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Special Agents.

  •  Our primary concern and warning to the physician or owner is to not talk to any investigators or inspectors, but call your personal attorney immediately. Have the investigator or inspector talk to your attorney. All communications should be with and through your attorney.
  • If you are requested to “voluntarily” relinquish (give up) your DEA registration or your medical license or other professional license, do not do this.  It will not help you and it will make every aspect of your case more difficult to defend.
  • Do not make any statement (oral or written) or allow yourself to be interviewed.
  • Obtain the complete names, addresses, titles and agencies for each agent there.  Obtain their business cards (which they should have).
  • Do not volunteer up any documents, items or information.

To read more about inspections from the document released by the Florida Department of Health click here.

If your office has been “inspected” and you need legal representation, you may call and speak to one of our health attorneys at (407) 331-6620 or (850) 439-1001.

Doctor or Nurse, Please, Please, Please: Talk to an Attorney Before You Talk to an Investigator

Despite mailing out hundreds of thousands of postcards and letters to physicians, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, and psychologists  throughout Florida, we continue to receive calls from new clients and from potential clients, after they have already spoken to and made critical harmful admissions against their own interests to investigators.  In Florida, you do not have any duty to cooperate with any investigator who is investigating you.  This extends to Department of Health (DOH) investigators (who are sometimes titled “Medical Quality Assurance Investigators” or “Medical Malpractice Investigators“), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agents, police officers, sheriff’s deputies, or criminal investigators of any type.

Let me state this as succinctly and clearly as possible.  If you are being investigated, you will not be better off making a statement.  You will not be better off explaining your side of the story.  The investigator is not your friend.  The investigator is not on your side.  All you are doing is falling for a trick and helping the government to make a case against you.

You have a right under the U.S. Constitution to not make any statement that may be used against you.  This is so important that in criminal cases government investigators are required to advise you of this by reciting to you your Miranda rights.

However, in cases where you might have your medical license revoked or have your nursing license revoked or have your DEA number revoked or lose your Medicare provider status or your Medicaid provider status, the investigator is not required to advise you of your rights.

In a criminal case, there may be ways to have your statement thrown out.  However, in a professional licensing case or other administrative case, it may be too late to avoid the damage.  You may be the best witness the government has and you may be the only witness the government needs to prove ths case against you.

In the case where you could receive a $100 criminal fine, the investigators are required to read you your constitutional Miranda rights and to be sure that you understand them before you make a statement.  However, in a case where you can lose your professional license, where you could lose your livelihood and ability to make a living, where you could lose everything you have worked so hard to obtain, they are not required to do this.  You must protect yourself.

Many health professionals, when confronted by an investigator, who will usually call at a very inconvenient time (to catch you by surprise) and will usually flash a badge (to intimidate you), will refuse to acknowledge the seriousness of the matter and will fall for the bait to “tell their side of the story.”  This can be fatal to your defense and fatal to your license.

In the absence of a statement by the suspect (in this case, let’s assume this is YOU), the government may have a very difficult time of proving that you have committed any offense.  It may have other witnesses (who may not be around at the time of any hearing or trial).  It may have a lot of physical evidence or documents.  But it may be impossible for the government investigators to make any link between you and the evidence, unless you help the investigators do this.  You would be surprised at how many health professionals believe that they can just talk their way out of the situation;  in reality, they are just giving evidence that is used to make the case against them.

Any evidence at all, just admitting that you were there, admitting that the documents are yours, admitting that the patient was yours, admitting that you worked at the clinic, admitting that you wrote the prescription, admitting that the property is yours, admitting that you were on duty at the time, admitting that you have taken a drug, admitting that you signed the form, can be a crucial piece of evidence that could not otherwise be proven without your own testimony.

Remember, this is the investigators’ job and profession.  This is what they do full time, every day.  And they are very good at it.  They are 1,000 times better at getting you to admit the crucial elements of a disciplinary infraction than you are in “talking your way out of it.”  They will not be convinced by any excuses you make.  They do not have to be. They will not be the ones making the final decision against you.  Theirs is the job of putting together the case against you.  You will help them by talking to them, explaining why your decisions are correct, explaining why what you did is excusable, etc.  It will not work.  You will merely be giving them enough rope to hang you with.

Hint: If it is a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicaid fraud.

Hint: If it is an “auditor,” “surveyor” or “investigator” from an agency or company with “integrity” or “program integrity” in its name, they are probably investigating you for “lack of integrity,” i.e., false claims or fraud.

Hint: If it is a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent (investigator) they are probably investigating you to prosecute you or to revoke your DEA registration for drug or prescribing violations.

Hint: If it is an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) special agent (investigator), you are probably under investigation for Medicare fraud or Medicare false claims.

Hint: If it is a Department of Health Quality Assurance Investigator or Medical Malpractice Investigator, they are probably only investigating possible disciplinary action against your license that could result in large administrative fines or revocation of your license.

Do not believe for a second that you are smarter than the investigator.  Do not believe for a second that you will convince the investigator (or anyone else) that there is a legal or medical justification for what you did or what they allege.  If it were as simple as that, then why would there be an investigation and why would you be the one being investigated?

Additionally, do not believe for a second that you can lie your way out of it, either.  Remember, if the government cannot prove the basic offense that it is investigating against you, it may be able to prove that you have committed perjury or lied to an investigator.  In the case of a federal official or a federal investigation, merely making a false statement (oral or written) to an investigator is a criminal act.  This is what Martha Stewart and many others have served time for in federal prisons.

These investigators are lied to all the time.  They are usually better at detecting lies than a polygraph expert is.  Furthermore, in most cases, you will be the very last person to be interviewed.  Therefore, they will already know just about everything that can be used against you.  If your statement contradicts in any way what others have told them, they will know you are the one who is lying.  However, knowing something or suspecting something does not mean it will be something that can be proven in court or in an administrative hearing.

It is much better to make no statement at all.  Blame it on your attorney.  Tell the investigator that your attorney will kill you if you were to talk to the investigator without your attorney being there ahead of time.  “Speak to my attorney.”  “My attorney can help you, I can’t.”

All you have to do is state “I must talk to my lawyer before I say anything.”  “I will have my lawyer contact you.”  “I cannot say anything until I talk to my lawyer.”  “I want a lawyer.”

If you are not the one being investigated, then there is no good reason why the investigator would want you to make a statement before you consulted with your attorney.  What is the rush?

Then you must also avoid the old trick of the investigator telling you “If you don’t have anything to hide, why would you need a lawyer?”  Please don’t fall for this trick, either.  This is America.  Smart people and rich people spend a lot of money on attorneys and other professionals to represent them and advise them.  There is a good reason why they do this.

Far too often the health professional only calls us after he has given a statement.  This is usually too late to avoid much of the damage that will have been be caused.

Everything above applies to oral statements or written statements.  Do not make either.  Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, preferably before making any statement, no matter how simple, defensive, self-serving or innocuous you may think it to be.

Think of this as an intelligence test.  Are you smart enough to follow this guidance and avoid this type of mistake?

For more information about investigations and other legal matters, visit www.TheHealthLawFirm.com.