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Procedures for addressing ethical complaints against ACP members

From the December 1997 ACP Observer, copyright 1997 by the American College of Physicians.

The College has revised its procedures under which complaints brought against members will be reviewed. Following are the revised procedures. For more information, call 800-523-1546, ext. 2835.

1. Initial review and notice

Any member physician, non-member physician or lay person may raise concerns regarding unprofessional, unethical or illegal conduct on the part of a member of the College. Information brought to the College's attention that does not meet the standards for a complaint shall be submitted for review to the President and relevant Governor only if deemed worthy of further review by the Executive Vice President (EVP). The EVP shall also decide if any file should remain open pending another investigative body's examination of the member's alleged conduct.

Formal complaints must be in writing and signed by the complainant, and must describe the act or conduct in question with reasonable particularity. Such complaints will be forwarded along with any supporting documentation to the President and relevant Governor by the EVP.

If further study by the College is warranted, the member about whom the concern was raised shall be notified that a complaint was filed, shall be sent a copy of the complaint, and shall be asked to respond in writing within 20 days to the EVP. The President, EVP and relevant Governor shall review any response and determine if professional review action by the College is warranted, or if no further study is required. They shall also determine if other authorities should be notified about the alleged conduct.

If the President, EVP and Governor determine that a hearing is warranted, the Governor shall announce the date of that hearing within 30 days of the decision to hold a hearing. The member shall be provided notice of the place, date and time of hearing at least 30 days in advance of the hearing and shall be provided a list of any witnesses expected to testify at the hearing on behalf of the College. If the President, EVP and Governor decide that no further study is warranted, the matter shall be closed.

All correspondence will be conducted by certified mail, return receipt requested, and the term "days" will refer to calendar days.

2. Hearing

The hearing will be conducted by a hearing committee of at least three Masters or Fellows of the College, none of whom shall be in direct economic competition with the member, and none of whom may have participated in any prior review of the member's activities. Committee members, one of whom will serve as chairperson, will be appointed by the Governor. The chairperson is to preside over the the hearing, maintain decorum and ensure that all parties have a reasonable opportunity to present evidence. The affected member shall be invited to attend the hearing and to question those presenting evidence or testimony against him. The member may also present witnesses on his behalf. He may, in lieu of or in addition to his appearance, submit a written response to the charges. Because these proceedings are meant to be intracollegial for the determination of professional issues, not judicial proceedings, neither the College nor the member should be represented at the hearing by an attorney. However, if the College elects to have an attorney present to participate on its behalf at the hearing, the affected member must also have been given the opportunity to be represented by counsel at the hearing.

3. Findings

Following presentation of all evidence, the hearing committee shall deliberate and vote to recommend an action to be taken. Only those present for all the testimony may vote. A majority vote shall decide the issue. A recommendation with written findings must be issued within 60 days of the conclusion of the hearing. Said recommendation shall be sent simultaneously to the President of the College, the EVP and to the affected member by certified mail, return receipt requested.

4. Record

A record shall be kept of the hearing, by tape or stenographic recording. The member has the right to a record of the proceedings, copies of which may be obtained by the member upon payment of any reasonable charges associated with the preparation thereof.

5. Sanctions

Possible sanctions, in accordance with the terms set forth in the bylaws of the College, may include: (1) a letter of reprimand; (2) a period of probationary membership; (3) suspension of membership; and (4) expulsion. The affected member shall be advised of the procedures and possible sanctions by the EVP when he receives notice of the complaint filed against him as provided under Section 1. The member shall also be advised that reporting laws of various jurisdictions may require the College to report action taken regarding membership status or to report evidence of unethical or unprofessional physician conduct. At the conclusion of the hearing provided under Section 2, the hearing committee shall forward the entire record of the case , including its recommendation and written findings, to the Ethics and Human Rights Committee for its review as provided in Section 6 (a).

6. Review

(a) Within 30 days of the issuance of its recommendation and written findings, the hearing committee shall forward the entire record to the Ethics and Human Rights Committee for review. This review shall consider any matter, substantive or procedural, which may have come before the hearing committee. The Ethics and Human Rights Committee shall conduct its review solely on the basis of the written record before it, and shall not receive testimony or review any evidence not reviewed by the hearing committee, although the affected member may submit a written statement to the Ethics and Human Rights Committee within 30 days of receiving the recommendation and findings of the hearing committee. The Ethics and Human Rights Committee may, at its discretion, require the hearing committee to submit a written response to any matter raised by the member's statement. Within 10 days of reaching its decision, the Ethics and Human Rights Committee shall forward its recommendation to the Board of Regents for review and implementation, as well as to the affected member.

(b) Unless the recommendation of the Ethics and Human Rights Committee is considered arbitrary or capricious by the Board, that recommendation shall be adopted by the Board of Regents. The Board of Regents may vote to remand the matter to the Ethics and Human Rights Committee when two-thirds of those members present and voting shall so vote. Expulsion shall require a two-thirds vote of the total members of the Board of Regents, acting at a meeting.

(c) Within 10 days of its decision on a recommendation of the Ethics and Human Rights Committee, the Board of Regents shall advise the affected member, the Governor and the hearing committee of its decision.

Board of Regents Approved, July, 12, 1997.

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