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California Veterinary Medical Board Investigation Process
The California Veterinary Medical Board (“Board”) receives from 500 to 600 consumer complaints per year. While many of these complaints do not necessarily constitute violations of the Veterinary Practice Act, the Board aggressively investigates complaints, including against the clients of Simas & Associates, Ltd.
Initial Letter of Inquiry
In nearly all investigation cases, the Board will issue an initial letter of inquiry, asking the treating veterinarian who is the subject of the complaint, or potentially a consulting veterinarian who also treated the patient, for copies of their medical records. It is imperative that the responding veterinarian timely provide medical records (with the assistance of legal counsel) to the Board within 30 days. Failure to do so can constitute unprofessional conduct.
In cases involving handwritten medical records, the responding veterinarian must provide a typewritten summary, transcribing all the contents of the medical records word-for-word. In the case of computerized medical records, the typewritten summary would only be necessary to expand upon abbreviations that may not be clear to the Board.
The Second Letter – Board’s Violation Letter
In cases involving alleged negligence or a violation of the standard of veterinary practice, the Board will have the medical records submitted in response to its initial letter reviewed by a veterinary expert or consultant. In the event the consultant or expert finds any purported violation of the Veterinary Act, including negligence, incomplete record keeping, etc., the Board will typically issue a second letter, notifying the licensee of the anticipated violation. The licensee will have an additional opportunity to respond to the second letter and attempt to dissuade the Board from pursuing its purported violation.
Options after Second Letter
After the Board issues its second letter and the licensee responds, the Board will either: (1) close the investigation; (2) issue a citation; or (3) issue an accusation. There is no time period according to law by which the Board must conclude an investigation. While this process usually takes anywhere from five to six months, Simas & Associates has had a handful of cases take in excess of 18 months, and has had one case take over two years for the investigation to be completed.
Next Steps
In the event the investigation is closed, no further response or action is required. A licensed veterinarian does not have to report a closed investigation to anyone because the complaint is resolved and concluded. In the event a citation is issued, the veterinarian has the option of simply paying the fine associated with the citation (usually ranging from $500.00 to $2,500.00), or may appeal the citation and its. In the event an accusation is issued, the veterinarian has 15 days to appeal the accusation to the Administrative Hearing Process under the Administrative Procedure Act.
Goals during License Investigation
Simas & Associates has represented hundreds of licensees and healthcare professionals, including veterinarians, throughout the process of a complaint investigation. Because both consumer complaints (whether by a pet owner, veterinary colleague, or someone else) and the ensuing investigations are confidential under the law, a veterinarian is forced to respond to a Board investigation without the benefit of knowing all the facts and circumstances of the complaint. In some cases, such facts and circumstances are obvious; yet in others, the veterinarian has no idea the nature of the complaint or even who complained.
In nearly all cases, the Board discloses the identity of the pet owner and the patient involved in the care. Accordingly, the number one goal when attempting to persuade the Board to close the investigation, is to educate the Board about the transaction. This includes explaining exactly what happened with the patient and exactly what happened with the pet owner in plain English. From reviewing the complaint and talking with our clients, Simas & Associates’ attorneys attempt to educate the Board’s enforcement personnel from the initial response forward regarding the care of the patient. In addition, we anticipate how the case would play out in a hearing, and provide sufficient information to challenge the Board’s experts and dissuade them from finding a violation of the Veterinary Practice Act.
The more we educate the Board at the outset, the more likely we can frame the issue in a way favorable to our clients and obtain closure of the investigation.
The strategy in responding to the Board is to demonstrate our veterinarian client’s responsiveness, competency, dedication to veterinary medicine, and demonstrated care for the patient, while we argue salient points of law and the facts to the Board. For example, when it is clear a pet owner complains to the Board based exclusively about money or the cost for veterinary services, our response focuses on our veterinary client educating the Board about the facts of the case while we argue that all the pet owner cares about is money.
Guidelines in Responding to the Board
Like our veterinary clients’ expertise in veterinary medicine, Simas & Associates has many years of expertise in responding to licensing boards. Based upon this experience, we have developed the following guidelines in responding to a Board investigation:
1. Do not respond to the Board in any way without legal counsel. Because our clients are the target of an investigation and become upset and frustrated with the process, Simas & Associates not only contributes its many years of expertise in knowing what licensing boards are looking for, but we also have perspective. In addition, the decision whether or not to take licensing action often rests with non-expert bureaucrats. For this reason, it is imperative that any medical or scientific discussion target a non-medically trained audience.
2. Consider how the record of treatment or condition of the pet could be misconstrued. Most of our cases involve a pet owner misunderstanding what happened or a negative comment about a subsequent treating veterinarian about the former veterinarian’s treatment. Accordingly, in responding to an investigation complaint, we must consider how things could get misconstrued and redirect the Board to the actual facts of the case.
3. Spend the time and effort responding to the investigation to avoid a citation or accusation. Board complaints interfere with conducting your business and require time and energy to respond. In addition, many licensees believe they can simply respond themselves by explaining things to the Board. This could be not further from the truth. The Board is in the business of finding violations of the Veterinary Practice Act, and for the reasons set forth above, no licensee should try to respond on his or her own without the assistance of experienced legal counsel. The time and energy spent in educating the Board in the first instance when a case commences is well worth it to avoid an accusation or citation. Once the Board issues an accusation or citation, it has invested time and resources in making a conclusion supporting their action and the Board becomes entrenched. There is no substitute for a thorough, thoughtful, and early response to the Board.
If you need assistance with an investigation of the Board, please contact us at 888-999-0008 or visit our website for further information at www.simasgovlaw.com.