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$500 Fine Stands for False Advertisement

I posted in this recent post that the California Medical Board was investigating me for false advertisement. They claimed that I intentionally advertised myself as a board certified physician even though I wasn’t considered board certified by California standards.

Informal Telephone Hearing

I had an informal telephone hearing with someone from the Department of Consumer affairs, specifically their Citation and Fine program, in order for me to make my case against their accusation.

I informed her that I am board certified under NPBAS and that I am allowed to advertise myself as board certified according to OR and WA where I also hold state licenses.

I highlighted that at no point did I advertise myself as board certified to anyone in California specifically, nor have I tried to use the word “board certified” to mislead anyone.

The conversation was probably 15-20 minutes in length. She asked me a few vague questions but it was obvious that there were no specific case examples she had in mind where I could have made such claims.

After our phone call I did a thorough online biopsy using my name and, like most of physicians, there are all sorts of websites which claim our name and advertise to be this or that. I didn’t find anywhere where I made the board certified claim.

Final Verdict

Nevertheless, I received a letter from the California Medical Board that the fine will stand. I will owe $500. I can contest this by requesting another official medical board hearing or I can pay the fine and be done with it.

The letter included no rationale, no reasoning, and no further explanation.

Under the Business and Professional Code (BPC), Chapter 1, Article 1, False Advertising in General, I am guilty of this – according to the CMB.

Consequences

I will now have this go into my public profile as well along with the many other suspensions, fines, and letters of reprimand.

I will also have to report this to CMS and my other state medical boards and likely will be investigated for this by the other states as well.

Another big problem is that the California Medical Board hasn’t told me where I advertise myself falsely and intentionally as board certified. So I have no way of correcting this issue.

This is after I requested that the medical board make this information available to me. Unfortunately, I suspect that they will only release such information after I get a lawyer, further feeding into the legal cycle.

Lack of Transparency

The lack of transparency is disturbing. The California Medical Board sees no reason to communicate with me like a mature and responsible professional. They find it adequate to make an accusation, hold a useless hearing, and then enforce the fine.

As for the option of having an official hearing. The problem with the official hearing is that I would have to get a lawyer, I would have to fly to California, I would have to then report yet another hearing to all the different entities.

The Irony of Board Certification

The reason I am dealing with this situation is because the ABMS has decided to trademark the term “Board Certified” in the state of California. Imagine the millions of dollars they must have spent and the lobbying needed to pass this law in state like California.

We know that monopoly isn’t a good thing in a capitalist economy. Free trade has to be enforced for the sake of true consumer protection.

Who knew that I would have to one day defend my 4 years spent in a Family Medicine residency in order to refer to myself as a board certified physician. This wasn’t a residency in Guam, I graduated from the UCLA Family Medicine residency program which is ACGME accredited.

The Power Dynamics

This is not a complaint. California has the right to pass any law it pleases. But by no means are we pawns in this game as physicians. We can choose which states we want to practice in. We can choose what kind of medicine we want to practice.

As physicians we generate billions of dollars of tax revenue for the state of California. They depend on us far more than we depend on them. It’s just that on a case-by-case basis, it can seem as though they control our careers.

I hope that my experience with the medical boards and attorneys and judges helps empower physicians. You’re not a pawn and you can take your skill and income anywhere you like. Choose wisely and grow your roots carefully grasshopper.

6 replies on “$500 Fine Stands for False Advertisement”

I am an ER doc working for Kaiser. I have been following your blog daily for months and love your openness and writing style. The reverberations of this minor and silly case are insane. I have been sued once so that has always been my main worry but you have opened my eyes to another world of pain. I have been using chaperones more for sure. Life and medicine are crazy. I wish you all the best and I am glad to see you finding adventure and making the best of this situation.

The must have been hell – I have no idea what it’s like to be sued but a buddy went through it when his pediatric patient died at Kaiser, it was horrible. No idea how he made it through it, but he did. Thank you for your kind words. Seriously, I had no idea there were so many docs who’ve gone through this shit but they reach out to me and we talk about it, it’s a good thing. The good thing is that everyone makes it through it… one way or another. Having support helps, admitting your own faults helps, not taking it personally is important, and having more to live for than medicine is important too.

Big props to you for talking about it without shame. Still so hard to do in our culture. My lawsuit was a 4 year nightmare not unlike your experience. In the end I was fine but that soured me on parts of medicine and started me on the FIRE path. I knew if that happened again I was out of medicine. In the past few years I have cut way back on hours (20-30 per week) and focus on family and happiness. I’m about 5 years out from fatFIRE but I love seeing your experience and seeing some of the cool options out there. I agree with all your points above. I can’t wait to see what crazy path your life takes next.

dude (or dudette)! nice! fatFIRE is definitely a huge achievement and nothing easy. For those of you who don’t know about the whole FIRE thing, it’s really nothing new. Your grandparents did it but didn’t call it anything. Essentially you save enough money to be able to retire – whatever that number might mean. The FI in “FIRE” stands for financially independent which is where you have either enough money saved up to live off until you die or the money is invested and you are using the income from the money to live off of. The RE stands for retire early. Early can be any age but generally means that you can retire before you have to retire. FatFIRE means that you not met your minimum retirement requirements and financial needs but you have accumulated more than enough. This is great because you’ll lose even less of the money and so that number will grow to disgustingly beautiful levels.
Solid work dude – and great that you’re able to get there while at 20-30 hours a week. I mean, really, you’ve hacked your medical career and you’re still helping human beings. It’s hard to beat that.

I appreciate your emotional strength!!
I read your words and wonder how these types of events began to be part of the world of medicine.
My ex is a neurologist. A patient he never met initiated a suit because the earliest appointment he could offer was 3 months out. He was fairly fresh out of fellowship and lived in worry over it for a couple of months. Of course the case was frivolous.
It was dropped BUT it will come up if he ever decides to undergo credentialing elsewhere. Also bugs me because money was spent on risk management by the practice. None of us signed up for this crap!

I feel ya and would give a slight pushback on signing up. I signed up for this when I chose Kaiser Permanente over starting my own medical practice. KP allowed me to earn $350k a year easily. The drama of lawsuits and administrative investigations is built into that income. When patients complain that doctors are paid too much or when some believe that physician salaries are to blame for rising costs – they aren’t considering the added cost of the ability to sue your doctor or to investigate them or in any way ruin their career trajectory.
I agree with you 100% that we didn’t sign up for this when we started residency. But as soon as we entered the job market we sort of casta vote. And I don’t think it’s a bad vote. If we are willing to push hard for 5-10 years and make a ton of money off the backs of some very shady large medical groups, we could be financially free for the rest of our lives.
A part of me wants to retain this model of blaming doctors; viewing us as evil and using us as cash cows gives me the opportunity to make a lot of money from medicine. But this is also a jaded view. The other part of me though is embarrassed to say that if medicine was real medicine, how much would I really be needed as an urgent care or family medicine doctor? 80% of what I see doesn’t need any medical attention whatsoever and I’m being generous.

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