Dentists who practice in Texas must be licensed by the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) and must follow strict rules enacted by the Board. The Board also has the power to investigate complaints against dentists and to discipline them. These investigations and any resulting discipline can have significant consequences for any practicing dentist. If you receive a complaint with the TSBDE, you must treat it seriously.
Understanding the TSBDE Complaint Process
The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners has established procedural rules that govern disciplinary proceedings against dentists. Here is how the process works:
Disciplinary proceedings begin with a complaint against a dentist. It can be made by a patient, hospital, other health care professional or agency, or the TSBDE.
If the Board determines that the complaint is within its jurisdiction, it will open an investigation of a complaint and assign an investigator to the case. The Board’s investigator will request additional information, such as dental records. The dentist will receive a copy of the complaint and have an opportunity to respond. This written response can be critical, and an experienced lawyer can sometimes frame the case or the argument in a way that results in either an outright dismissal, or at least a better posture at an Information Settlement Conference (see below). Once the investigation is completed, the Director of Enforcement will make a decision that may include closing the complaint, referring it for additional investigation, referring it for an informal settlement conference, or filing a formal Charge with the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
If it is determined that there is an imminent threat to public safety, the Board can issue a temporary suspension of the dentist’s license.
Informal Settlement Conference
If the Director of Enforcement decies that a violation exists, he will normally refer the case for an informal settlement conference (ISC). The dentist meets with three Board members and a few staff members to discuss the complaint at this conference. In some cases, the complaint will be dismissed. It is best to be represented by an experienced medical licensing defense and peer review attorney at this hearing. Don’t wait until the last minute to hire your lawyer – quite often, there is a “freeze out” period prior to the ISC, and any information not submitted prior to that period will not be considered. Your lawyer needs to review your submission far enough in advance to ensure that all relevant information can be considered.
Agreed Order Negotiation
An ISC will often result in a proposed Agreed Order from the ISC panel on behalf of the Board. If an Agreed Order Negotiation is recommended at the informal settlement conference, the dentist has 30 days to decide whether to accept it. He may also be able to negotiate more favorable terms in the order—with the assistance of his lawyer, or, if not, he may at least have the comfort of knowing he had no choice but to contest the formal charges and try his case at SOAH.
Contested Case Hearing
If the complaint is not resolved, it would be referred to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) where a formal hearing will be conducted. A SOAH proceeding is very similar to a civil lawsuit – both parties are entitled to written discovery, depositions, and other pretrial procedures that cause information to be shared and issues to be narrowed. Ultimately the case is tried to an Administrative Law Judge (these judges are state employees who do not work for the licensing board but generally have familiarity with the particular field). The ALJ then makes a Proposal for Decision (PFD), which the Board can choose to adopt, reject or modify. The dentist can then sue in state court if the Board’s decision is not substantiated by credible evidence. Most of the time, the Board adopts the ALJ’s findings of fact in the PFD and imposes a disciplinary consequence for any negative finding.
The dentist may be placed on probation and required to meet certain requirements to keep his license, such as the payment of fines or completion of continuing education. The Board’s enforcement division may monitor the case to ensure that the dentist complies.
Do not make the mistake of trying to represent yourself if you are a dentist in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – or anywhere else in Texas – and you are the subject of a TSBDE investigation.
Contact us online or call our office directly at 817.380.4888 to schedule your free consultation with Attorney Walt Taylor today.