I received a certified letter from the California Medical Board in which I was notified of a $500 fine for false advertisement, claiming to be board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine.
I am, in fact, board certified in Family Medicine, but not in the state of California. I have a board certification by NBPAS which California doesn’t accept as a board certification. However, Oregon and Washington do accept it as a board certification designation.
The letter form the California Medical Board is 18 pages long. Nowhere does it state where I have made such a claim. So no proof is provided, just an accusation. It would have been helpful to know where and how I may have made such a claim and the relevant dates so that I can correct them.
Fortunately, there is a precedence of the Administrative Judge using this blog as a factual document which was allowed as proof into my last medical board hearing. This should make it very easy because all I would need to do is to point the interested parties to my post over 2 years ago when I intentionally decided to switch my board certification from ABMS to NBPAS.
Contesting The Fine for False Advertisement
I am given 3 checkboxes to use in my reply:
- “I wish to forgo any appeal and enclose payment for the fine and proof of compliance with the Order of Abatement.”
- I wish to schedule and informal conference. If citation is upheld and affirmed by the Medical Board, I wish to schedule and administrative hearing.”
- “I wish to forgo an informal conference and I wish to schedule a formal administrative hearing.”
For the record – since what I say on this blog seems to be just that – I have no problem paying the $500 fine. If I inadvertently claimed a Family Medicine board certification by ABFM (branch of ABMS) then I should be punished.
Let’s analyze each option, one by one. I fell for this once in the past because I didn’t have a lawyer and it would be silly to fall for it again:
#1. Forgo Appeal
Unfortunately, I can’t even use this option because I would have to show proof of compliance. This means that I would have to show them proof that I stopped advertising myself as a board certified individual by the ABFM.
How do I do that? I don’t even know where I am making such a claim. I only know what the CMB attorney claimed against me last time I showed up in court, which I’ll discuss more blow.
2. Informal Conference
The last time I used a check-box to reply to a letter to the California Medical Board, they ignored the information I included in the letter and instead scheduled a hearing before an Administrative Judge. In that letter I wrote that if a stipulated agreement option is on the table, I would prefer that.
This time I crossed out the text completely and wrote in my own words, in English, stating that I don’t want an administrative hearing (which, if you look, is what is at the end of that sentence) and that I would like a telephone call with the medical board to discuss the matter.
This is nobody’s fault but mine. I should have hired a lawyer if I wanted the matter to be addressed without any confusion. But I maintain, hardheadedly, that as a licensee I should be able to communicate with my own state medical board without a lawyer.
3. Formal Administrative Hearing
I don’t see the need to appear before a judge yet again for this matter. It’s something that the California Medical Board and I should be able to resolve between the two of us.
That said, it worked out rather favorably the last time so it’s not off the table.
Board Certification Claim = False Advertisement
In March 2019 when I appeared before the judge for my California Medical Board hearing, the Board attorney claimed that I was falsely advertising myself as a Board Certified individual in the state of California.
She cited the relevant legal code to the judge that I wasn’t allowed to make such a claim unless I was board certified by the ABMS – American Board of Medical Specialties and its sub-chaper, the American Board of Family Medicine. This would count as false advertisement.
The proof she used that I was making such a claim was an online profile for my Just Answer. In it I state that I am board certified, which I am, in OR and WA. But honestly, I didn’t even know that this was something I could modify.
I have no control over where JA advertises and if they claim that I am board certified to their customers. However, just to remedy this matter, I changed my online profile from Board Certified to Physician. This should avoid any confusion.
However, it doesn’t solve the other problem of the 100 other websites which make claims about me online. There are still old profiles of me when I worked for Teladoc and when I had a HealthTap profile, Doctor on Demand, Oscar, etc. Then there are those aggregation websites which list any doctor in the US and make board certification claims about them. Am I responsible for the information they put out? I don’t believe so, but we’ll find out.
The letter which I received is documented to have been sent to me on April 8th. However, I received it in my Traveling Mailbox on May 3rd. It was exactly for these reasons that I decided to obtain a Traveling Mailbox account. Everything is time-stamped, documented, and legal signatures are obtained on my behalf.
This letter is nearly 1 month delayed. In the letter I am notified that I only have 10 days to contest the matter. And only 30 days to pay the fine. The letter they sent was returned to sender 2x. Why? Not sure. Maybe the address was entered improperly. For some reason the date of the document wasn’t changed by the CMB staff.
All my troubles with the Oregon Medical Board started out in this same exact manner. The OMB sent letter to my employer which magically didn’t make it to my mailbox at Kaiser Permanente. They were shoved into someone else’s mailbox. The OMB made no attempt to contact me by any other means after 3 months – 90 days!! – of trying to contact me. Finally, once the deadline had expired, they decide to phone me.
Steps I Have Taken
The consulting work I do doesn’t depend on whether I am board certified or not. Regardless, I have contacted my consultation clients and let them know that in no shape or form am I claiming to be board certified by any entity other than NBPAS.
I have googled the shit out of myself and can’t find any other board certification claims made by myself. I didn’t even make such a claim on my MHC website.
We will see if the California Medical Board will accept this. I don’t mind the $500 fine. I worry that I will pay this fine and they will next claim that I didn’t comply with their initial petition and continued to advertise myself deceitfully.