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It is imperative that all physician assistants (PAs) gain familiarity with the Office of Professional Medical Conduct (OPMC), including what they are responsible for investigating. Within the purview of the OPMC are the many actions of PAs. As licensed professionals, this includes what happens in a PAs personal and professional life.
Role of the OPMC
The regulatory powers of the OPMC are extensive and include investigating complaints about physicians, PAs and specialist assistants. They also monitor practitioners that must comply with Orders of the State Board for Professional Medical Conduct. When misconduct is found, the OPMC is responsible for disciplining PAs.
PA misconduct is vaguely defined, yet aggressively disciplined by the OPMC. Misconduct can include anything considered to be an inaccurate application or report. It can also be an accusation of misconduct that is criminal in nature, substance use, family or marital difficulties, an inappropriate prescription, financial indiscretion, psychological issues, inappropriate behavior, postings on the Internet or relationship issues. Potential matters of misconduct are wide-ranging.
All PAs should expect ongoing scrutiny by the OPMC as they investigate complaints of malpractice and negligence. They also investigate employment issues related to termination, discrimination, alleged sexual harassment, colleague relationships and a hostile work environment, among others. Scrutiny by the OPMC can include areas that are nonclinical in nature, such as secondary employment, academic study, immoral conduct or inappropriate behavior, even if it occurs while serving in a voluntary capacity.
Using alcohol in a manner that causes “inappropriate” behavior can result in an OPMC investigation, even if it did not have an impact on a patient. The same applies to the improper use of legal drugs or the use of illegal drugs. A PA that is found to be intoxicated while driving will likely be investigated by the OPMC. Failing to pay child support or alimony in a timely manner, being subjected to a restraining order, or receiving a complaint of stalking or harassment can result in an OPMC investigation and subsequent action.
The prevalence of technology has expanded the scope of investigations by the OPMC to include “inappropriate” actions related to texting, e-mail messages, blog entries and social media posts. Other personal matters that might be considered misconduct and result in an OPMC investigation include delinquency judgments, bankruptcy and defaulting on a student loan.
All Facets of Life
The OPMC has the right to investigate all facets of a PAs life when an issue of misconduct arises that calls for discipline. In the event that a Long Island PA’s license is the subject of misconduct and a disciplinary authority from another state revokes their license, the OPMC will consider an equivalent action in New York. It is possible that “boundary violations” will be considered professional misconduct.
Despite due process protections offered to all citizens by the Constitution of the United States, PAs are denied these rights. According to the OPMC, PAs must comply with ethical standards that are higher than that of citizens. They believe this is part of the checks and balances required for public safety. This has caused PAs in New York to be deprived of their constitutional right to due process. The current manner in which PAs are investigated and disciplined is flawed and unconstitutional.
Denial of Right to Counsel
The OPMC consistently does not inform PAs of their right to counsel, despite state and federal laws. Upon receiving complaints, the OPMC misinforms PAs of their right to obtain legal assistance. An experienced attorney should be obtained to protect the rights of the PA that is being investigated. This can prevent involuntary self-incrimination. PAs have the right to direct the OPMC to their attorney and have no further direct contact. Some OPMC investigators provide inaccurate information regarding the need for respondents to sign correspondence.
PAs may be unable to review medical records obtained by the OPMC prior to their fact-finding interview. This may happen when a former employer denies access to those files. This issue makes the fact-finding interview process unfair.
Denial of a Speedy Trial
OPMC investigations have no statute of limitations, which means a PA can be investigated for an issue that occurred many years ago. This is beyond what is fundamentally fair. There are instances when evidence is no longer available and witnesses disappear or forget events. It’s also possible for the PA to forget the details of what occurred. Extending a PAs exposure to administrative punishment indefinitely is irrational.
The OPMC asserts that PAs are privileged to practice medicine under the oversight of the OPMC. A PAs personal and professional life is subject to investigations that can result in wide-ranging sanctions, up to license revocation. PAs can and should support efforts to make OPMC processes fair for all parties involved.