Massachusetts health care consumers have millions of interactions every month with the health care professionals and entities licensed by the boards of registration, usually to the mutual satisfaction of both parties. However, when a patient alleges that a licensee violated standards of professional conduct, he or she has a right to file a complaint with the Division of Health Professions Licensure.

Grounds for complaints can include, among other things, negligence, practice beyond the scope of licensure, failure to adhere to acceptable standards of practice, fraud, practice while impaired by alcohol or drugs, sexual misconduct, fraudulent procurement of a license, and practice while license is lapsed. The boards do not handle disputes over fees.

When the Division receives a written complaint, staff reviews it to determine whether it concerns an issue that falls within the relevant board's jurisdiction. If additional information is necessary to make that determination, staff will notify the complainant by telephone or in writing. If the matter falls within the board's jurisdiction, the Division will notify the complainant of its decision and begin to conduct an investigation. The investigation may include personal interviews with the complainant, the licensee, and other appropriate individuals, as well as on-site visits to health care facilities or the licensee's office of practice to review records and make observations.

With the advice of legal counsel, the appropriate board of registration will review the completed investigation and decide whether the complaint suggests possible professional misconduct that justifies an informal or formal hearing. The complainant is notified in writing about how the board intends to proceed on the complaint.

If the board decides that an informal conference is appropriate, the complainant and the licensee will be asked to explain the circumstances of the complaint to the board. After hearing the explanations, the board may recommend a resolution or schedule a formal hearing. It is up to the board to determine whether or not there are grounds for a formal hearing.

In many cases, as an alternative to a formal hearing, the board will attempt to resolve a complaint by negotiating an agreement with the licensee. However, if the board decides that a formal conference is appropriate, it will issue an "Order to Show Cause" to the licensee as to why his or her license should not be revoked or suspended. The order describes the allegations made in the complaint. The licensee has 21 days to respond to the Order.

At a formal hearing, the licensee may be represented by an attorney and may present witnesses. The board may subpoena witnesses. You may be asked to testify. Board members, the hearing officer, the board's prosecuting attorney, the licensee, or the licensee's attorney may question witnesses. If the evidence presented proves the misconduct, the board may impose discipline. Disciplinary actions include suspension or revocation of a license, a reprimand, a fine, probation, or an order to bring facilities into regulatory or statutory compliance, depending on the authority of the board.

If you have a complaint against a licensee, you can download a Complaint Form to fill out and send back to the Division. If you are not sure if a licensee's actions fall within the board's jurisdiction, you can call us at (617) 973-0865.

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This information is provided by the Division of Health Professions Licensure within the Department of Public Health.