Rules and Rights: the Power of State Medical Boards to Regulate


nashville_capitol_webLast week’s article discussed the disciplinary process before a Tennessee health related board. This article continues with the same theme, expounding upon the power with which health related boards regulate licensees, and where this power comes from.

Tennessee Health Related Boards generally derive their powers from several difference sources, including Tennessee law and a set of rules specific to each board, which set forth the board’s regulatory powers. Tennessee Code Title 63 governs the Professions of the Healing Arts, including chiropractors, dentists, physicians, nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, and veterinarians, among others. Additionally, each health related board has their own set of rules, for example, the Board of Medical Examiners, Board of Nursing, and the Board of Dentistry all have their own rules that govern their health care practice.

Tennessee Code gives the health related boards the power to deny an application for a license, suspend or limit a current license, reprimand a license, including private censure or warning, or permanently revoke a license.  The grounds on which a board can take such action include unprofessional or unethical conduct by a health care provider, violation of Tennessee criminal law, gross or repeated health care negligence, the personal misuse of drugs or alcohol, and the dispensing of controlled substances outside the course of a professional practice, among others.

Anyone can file a complaint against a health care professional, and non-frivolous complaints can trigger an investigation into the health care provider’s professional and personal life. Several organizations can offer support to these individuals suffering from a chemical dependency, mental, or emotional illness that affects his or her work. The Tennessee Medical Foundation (the “TMF”) provides addiction treatment and mental health services to physicians, and the Tennessee Professional Assistance Program (“TnPAP”) provides similar treatment to nurses.

Obviously, the best way to avoid discipline from a regulatory board is to engage in one’s health care profession ethically and with excellence, but no one is immune from making mistakes or exercising poor judgment. Once an investigation is initiated against a health care provider, the best course of action is to proactively remedy the situation. For many doctors and nurses, this means self-enrollment in TMF or TnPAP if he or she is suffering from an addiction or mental illness. For others, this may mean a restructuring of the way he or she handles medical records and the prescribing of controlled substances. Although the healthcare related boards take their regulatory powers seriously, they generally prefer for a health care provider to rehabilitate and continue in his or her chosen profession, rather than lose the ability to be a part of the health care profession altogether.