After a complaint is filed, one of the first steps taken by the Department of Health Professions is to interview the licensee. The interview is conducted by an investigator from the Enforcement Division. In our experience, most investigators are very professional and have both legal and medical training. The investigator will reach out to the licensee by certified letter requesting that the licensee contact the investigator. Once communication with the investigator is made, the investigator will either request that the licensee submit a written statement or submit to an interview.
For the licensee facing this situation, an important question is: “Do I need a lawyer?” Not surprisingly, our answer is “Yes”. Often, the greatest mistake a licensee makes in the disciplinary process is responding to an investigator without the benefit of counsel. If an investigator contacts you, we recommend that you contact an attorney. Your attorney can respond to the investigator on your behalf. An experienced attorney can tell you what questions to expect and help you prepare clear and accurate answers. The attorney can also clarify issues during the interview and add information that you leave out. It’s important to note that the attorney’s role is usually not to object to the investigator’s questions or to interrupt the flow of the interview.
An interview may occur at the licensee’s place of business or at the Department of Health Professions in Richmond. If the practitioner is represented by counsel, the interview may occur at the attorney’s office. In simple cases, the interview may occur over the telephone. Interview length varies from 30 minutes to several hours. The average is about an hour.
The investigators do not render judgment; they are fact finders. But their impressions from the interview do shape their investigatory findings. If they feel a licensee is being evasive or dishonest, red flags go up, and the investigator bears down harder. For this reason, we generally do not approach investigators in an adversarial way. They have an important job to do, and we respect them. In our experience, a licensee is better off cooperating with investigators and making their jobs easier.
The general rule of cooperation may not apply when there is potential criminal or civil liability. You must rely on your attorney to help you decide whether to agree to an interview or whether certain questions should not be answered.
Please keep in mind that an interview is triggered by a complaint that you have broken the rules or that you are a danger to the public. The point of the interview is to determine whether the complaint is valid. The investigator is focused on danger to the public. Your livelihood and reputation are not major considerations.