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Filing a Complaint

How and when to file a complaint against a physician

Filing a Complaint against a Physician

If you believe your physician has acted in an unethical or unprofessional manner, it is very important that you contact your state's medical board. Medical boards cannot investigate problem doctors if they are unaware of them. 

Depending on the size of a state's physician population, medical boards typically will receive hundreds to thousands of complaints annually, each of which will be processed by board staff.

Complaints are prioritized according to the potential for patient harm. Cases in which an investigator determines imminent patient harm is possible are typically "fast-tracked" to ensure swift action by the medical board. Complaints receiving high priority include alleged sexual misconduct and practicing medicine while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. 

The most common complaint received by medical boards is allegations a physician has deviated from the accepted standard of medical care in a state. Some of the most common standard-of-care complaints include:

  • Overprescribing or prescribing the wrong medicine
  • Failure to diagnose a medical problem that is found later
  • Misreading X-rays to identify a medical problem
  • Failure to get back to a patient with medical test results in a timely manner, which can lead to harm to that patient
  • Failure to provide appropriate post-operative care
  • Failure to respond to a call from hospital to help a patient in a traumatic situation
  • Other complaints alleging sexual impropriety or substance abuse 

Whatever the complaint, physicians have the right to due process, which asserts that an individual is innocent until proven guilty, as the board investigates the allegation. Boards must adhere to established rules and principles to ensure that a physician is not treated unfairly, arbitrarily or unreasonably. In instances of severely egregious behavior, boards have authority to summarily suspend a physician’s license until an administrative law hearing can be scheduled.