From time to time physicians, dentists and other healthcare professionals are called upon to make recommendations for, or respond to inquiries concerning other professionals. Sometimes this involves inquiries received from state agencies, hospitals or other healthcare entities. Sometimes it is the result of a direct request from the other professional for a letter of recommendation.
A case decided in May 2013 by the Court of Appeals for Franklin County, Ohio demonstrates why healthcare professionals should exercise great care in responding to these types of requests or inquiries.
The case of Calloway v. Ohio State Medical Board, involved a physician who completed a recommendation form for an out-of-state physician who was seeking medical licensure in Ohio.
The out-of-state physician (a Dr. Rice) was seeking licensure in the State of Ohio. He requested that an Ohio physician complete a Certificate of Recommendation that could be used in connection with Dr. Rice’s application for Ohio licensure. The Ohio physician agreed to do so.
In the Certificate of Recommendation, the Ohio physician certified that Dr. Rice was of good moral character, and recommended that he be licensed to practice medicine and surgery in the State of Ohio. In the certificate, he rated Dr. Rice’s medical knowledge and technique as excellent, his relationship with patients as excellent and his ability to work well with peers and medical staff as excellent. He executed the certificate before a notary public. However, the facts which later emerged disclosed, among other things, that Dr. Rice had been convicted of a felony count of grand theft of personal property, had disciplinary actions taken against him in the State of Illinois and New York for impairment, and had been found to have committed gross negligence in the practice of medicine, and unprofessional handling and treatment of a patient.
During a hearing conducted by the Ohio State Medical Board, it was disclosed that although the Ohio physician and Dr. Rice had been students together in medical school many years before, the Ohio physician had never observed Dr. Rice’s interactions with patients, peers and medical staff, nor could he recall ever having observed Dr. Rice’s medical techniques, despite rating him as excellent.
In spite of this, after protracted administrative and court proceedings, the Court of Appeals determined the State Medical Board had failed to make the requisite finding that the Ohio physician had knowingly made or affirmed the truth of a false statement in completing the recommendation form. The court also held that even if the Medical Board had expressly made such a finding, there was no reliable, probative or substantial evidence that would support it.
Although the result was fortunate for the Ohio physician, it no doubt necessitated the expenditure of a significant amount of time and energy on his part. His legal fees would have been substantial. All of this could have been avoided had he simply advised Dr. Rice that he did not feel himself qualified to provide the sort of recommendation that Dr. Rice sought given their lack of any contact for many years.
The Ohio physician may have felt himself simply doing a favor for an old acquaintance. However, as this case illustrates, care should be taken in filling out any sort of recommendation form involving another person. No one should provide any sort of recommendation where they do not feel sufficiently knowledgeable to provide information. Indeed, if you are being asked to provide a recommendation with regard to someone you barely know, the logical question is why someone who had better familiarity with the individual was not asked for comment.
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