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Understanding the California Medical Board review process

What do I do? What comes next? These are two likely responses to learning you’ve had a complaint filed against you with the Medical Board of California.

First, you need to relax. There’s a big difference between a complaint and a disciplinary action. You’ll have several chances to respond and make your case, so it’s good to know how the process works—and how your careful response might help.

Complaints, investigations and discipline

Anyone can file a complaint, and the California Medical Board receives thousands of complaints each year, most of which lead nowhere. These complaints frequently come from patients, family members and others who are simply unhappy with an outcome. They may have little or no understanding of what happened or what they should have expected.

Still, the Medical Board reviews every complaint it receives—roughly 8,000 per year. And if it finds it has jurisdiction over a complaint about the quality of care, it will:

  • Ask you for a summary of the treatment, along with any other relevant documents.
  • Provide you a summary of the complaint. Notably, you have the right to request a more substantial summary of the complaint before returning your summary of the treatment.
  • Have an expert review the complaint, the patient’s medical history and your summary of the treatment.
  • If the expert decides you adhered to standard practice, the Medical Board discontinues its review. However, it will keep the complaint on file for one year.
  • If the expert finds cause for further review, the Medical Board will open an investigation.
  • During an investigation, investigators will gather all pertinent medical records. They will interview you, the complainant and other relevant witnesses. They may even go undercover to gain a better understanding of the people, places and events in question.
  • The investigators hand over their findings to an expert reviewer.
  • If the Medical Board files an accusation, you have a chance to defend yourself in a hearing.

The process can be stressful, but the numbers are on your side. A study released in 2017 found that between 2003 and 2013, the Medical Board:

  • Received 32,978 complaints
  • Launched 7,731 investigations
  • Disciplined 1,223 physicians

Notably, there are several points at which you can reply or act under observation: When you receive notice of a complaint, during an investigation and at a hearing. The way you respond can help clear matters up—or spur the Medical Board to the next step and further action.

The Medical Board is not on your side

It’s important to remember the Medical Board serves to protect the patients, not you. While you’ll have the chance to present what you know, it is not on your side.

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