Besides a dental malpractice claim, a letter from the dental board is one of the most feared things for dentists. If you have received a letter from the dental board suggesting you may be subject to discipline, it can be an overwhelming feeling. However, knowing what the process may be like can give you some peace of mind. Though this process can vary from state to state, this article gives you a general overview of the process and what you can expect if are called before the dental board.
First things first, don’t panic. Just because you got a letter from the dental board, whether its the dental board of California or the New York dental board, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to be subject to discipline. If this is an initial letter informing you of a patient complaint, your attorney should respond with an explanation of the situation. However, you may also receive notice that you are required to meet with the dental board or that the board is going to be discussing your case. That may be good news, bad news or the board may simply want to get more information on your case. Essentially, once you have submitted the documents necessary for the board to review your case, at some point, they will need to meet and decide what action, if any, should be taken.
Appearing Before the Board – Overview
If you are called to appear before the board or it will be discussing your case, you should always consider having an attorney appear with you to advise you, though it is likely you will have to speak on your own behalf. Many boards do not allow attorneys to actively participate in hearings or proceedings but do allow your attorney to prepare you, observe, and keep you apprised of your rights throughout the process. To protect patient privacy there are many times when the board may meet in a closed executive session. Many dentists prefer this setting, as it may keep private the dentist’s information if no formal discipline results from the discussion. However, if the private patient information isn’t involved with your case, it is likely the dental board will review your case in a public meeting.
What to Expect at the Meeting of the Dental Board
You will want to ensure you arrive earlier than your scheduled appearance before the board. Depending on the board, your case may be heard in the order you arrive and check-in, or more likely, it will be heard according to the schedule set for the board. When your matter comes up for discussion, you and your lawyer, if you brought one, will likely be moved up to a conference table before the board. You will have worked with your attorney in advance to determine what you will say to the board if anything. Typically the investigator that worked your case will present or their notes and report to the board will be discussed.
It is possible that new information found by the investigator may come to light during the investigation of your case. Again, if you have prepared with your attorney, you should have a plan of how you intend to respond, or not respond, to any information. Keep in mind a record is kept of the meeting, so any statements you make will be documented and could be used against you in the future.
It is likely you will feel stressed out or worried when you are appearing before the board, but try to keep your anxiety level down. Most cases that come to the board in any given state do not result in a public discipline. Additionally, most cases can be resolved, and because the board will likely be considering several cases on the date yours is considered, its likely you won’t be in front of the board very long.
Why You Should Appear
Even though there are very few cases that result in any sort of serious discipline, there are still a number of reasons why you should attend the board’s discussion of your case in person. First, even if you provided clear and thorough evidence to explain the initial complaint that you were advised of, there may be more to discuss based on the investigation. If the investigator has come across anything else that concerned the investigator during the course of the investigation, you will want the chance to hear and respond to the information.
Additionally, the appearance is your chance to see exactly what evidence the investigator has and what regulations you are claimed to have violated. This is the information you will need to help prepare your expert witness should your case proceed to a formal hearing. You also get a chance to see the board’s reaction to the facts that are presented and get an idea of how they feel about your case. If there is any disagreement on the board about whether a violation occurred or if there is a dispute about an appropriate sanction for any such violation, this will help you and your attorney to decide how you will respond to any offered discipline or whether to request a formal hearing.
Another great reason to attend is that sometimes board investigators get it wrong or make a mistake. If an investigator presents obviously wrong information in their report, your appearance is an opportunity to set the record straight. However, be sure to check with your legal counsel to ensure that doing so is the right move.
Finally, another reason why many dentists choose to attend the board meeting where their case is being discussed is because they don’t have to sit around and wait to hear what happened at the meeting. If the board chooses not to open a formal case, even if you feel you didn’t need to attend the meeting, at least you knew as soon as was possible that you had nothing to worry about.
At the end of the day, it is always better to be over-prepared than under prepared. If you prepare with your attorney, attend the meeting, and no formal case is opened, you are out a little bit of time and money. On the other hand, if you fail to appear for a meeting because you assume it is a minor issue, and it turns out the investigator and the board think its more serious, you have put yourself and your license at a major disadvantage as you move forward in the board discipline process by not attending. Work with an experienced attorney and have the peace of mind that you have all your bases covered.