Medical professionals know what "unprofessional conduct" is. They spend years in school and years at the sides of more experienced practitioners learning not just what to do but how to be a surgeon or a doctor. The ethics of these jobs are pretty much self-evident, rooted in common sense and instinct. We may not be able to quote the exact rules, but we know unprofessional conduct when we see it, whether we are in Pennsylvania or Timbuktu.
The problem is that the Board of Medicine has specific definitions of unprofessional (and immoral) conduct, and it is an open-ended list -- it includes but is not limited to these actions. Some of the items are obvious: Do not lie on your application for a medical license. Some are not: Do not refuse to or fail to provide a patient's medical record upon written request. The latter is certainly good advice, but it may surprise a few practitioners to know that this kind of mistake can have an impact on licensure.
Among the more obvious items are maintaining patient confidentiality, guaranteeing a cure and over-promising in advertising (Lose 40 lbs. in 40 minutes!). Practicing without a license is clearly a violation, and that includes practicing during a license suspension.
Performing procedures that the practitioner is not competent to perform, whether by lack of training or by drug or alcohol impairment, is also a violation. Ear, nose and throat specialists should not be performing heart surgery or showing up drunk at the clinic.
Allowing an unlicensed person to perform a task that only a licensed practitioner can perform is a violation. On "Bring Your Child to the Office" day, do not let your 6th-grader perform a biopsy.
A less obvious rule: Even licensed professionals should not impersonate another licensed professional. Dr. Kildare cannot introduce himself as Ben Casey and then treat patients or perform surgery at a hospital where Casey, not Kildare, has privileges. Misrepresentation is prohibited as well when it comes to billing patients or payers for medical services.
We will review the rest of the list in our next post.
Source: Pennsylvania State Board of Medicine, Medical Disciplinary Process and Procedures, § 16.61. Unprofessional and immoral conduct, accessed Nov. 6, 2014