The Law Offices of Brian E. Quinn

Can a doctor's discretion be challenged by a licensing board?

Abuses in the prescription of opioid drugs have been the topic of recent media coverage, such as the apparent overdose of musical artist Prince. This raises the question: Could a doctor find his or her medical license in danger after issuing an opioid prescription that resulted in overdose?

The above hypothetical does not contain enough facts to provide a simplistic answer. What seems clear, however, is that authorities are taking a closer look at why and how opioids are prescribed to patients.

The decision to prescribe opioids reflects a doctor’s discretion and sound professional judgment. Yet even if a medical professional is considered an authority in his or her field, that expertise may not be immune from an attack by the Pennsylvania Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs. In fact, a doctor may find himself or herself in a hearing where other experts are called in to offer challenging viewpoints.

The authority for this process is the state’s Medical Practice Act of 1985. The BPOA regulates 29 licensing boards and commissions in Pennsylvania, including the State Board of Medicine, among others. That board regulates the licensure of medical doctors and physician assistants. There are separate boards for other fields, including nursing, dentistry and pharmacy.

When a complaint has been filed against a doctor or physician assistant, an investigation precedes any administrative hearing. An investigator will attempt to gather enough information to present a recommendation to the Board. That investigation can dramatically impact the outcome of the hearing, however. According to the statute, that investigator may even be a witness in any subsequent hearings. Accordingly, a professional should consult with an attorney before speaking to the investigator.

Source: philly.com, “Hopes and fears accompany launch of Pa.'s new overdose-prevention tool,” Don Sapatkin, Aug. 22, 2016

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