Medical boards are supposed to revoke the licenses of providers who abuse their power and position. However, taking away someone’s license isn’t like flipping a switch. It takes months for medical boards to respond to reports of unethical behavior and abuse. Even if the person has been charged with a crime, the medical board has to wait for the authorities to weigh in.
That’s the case for Dr. Ghyasuddin Syed, MD, a pain specialist in Baytown, TX. He was convicted of a federal offense but the door to his office is still open – for now.
Convicted but Still Allowed to Practice
Syed was convicted of conspiracy after pleading guilty to funneling lab testing to a company for financial gain. Syed received hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks from the company in exchange for sending business their way.
Syed must now report to prison in July, but he refuses to discuss the charges. “I’m very honest, very clean. I know only the Lord knows me. I’ve not done anything wrong,” he told a local news outlet during a recent interview.
Records show Syed has a history of unethical behavior. In 2016, the Texas Medical Board cited him for failing to meet an adequate standard of care. They also found him prescribing drugs to patients that he shouldn’t have been treating, and just last year, the board ruled that he has acted inappropriately with three female patients.
Still, the doors to his office remain open and he is accepting patients. So, why hasn’t the Texas Medical Board intervened?
What Does the Texas Medical Board Have to Say?
The board oversees about 160,000 total licensees, 90,000 of which are physicians as well as physician assistants, medical radiologists, technologists, respiratory care practitioners, acupuncturists, surgical assistants, and other types of care providers. The group is also responsible for investigating complaints and claims of abuse, while disciplining providers when necessary.
The Texas Board is made up of 19 members, 10 of which are physicians, medical doctors, and osteopathic doctors, according to Christopher Palazola, Director of Operations for the Texas Medical Board. The rest are members of the public appointed by the governor. They meet around five times a year.
The group will process hundreds of claims and reports during a single meeting, which can take up to two days. Palazola wouldn’t discuss the doctor by name, but says processing these claims takes time.
That’s a big part of why Dr. Syed is still in business.
“And that is frustrating for us sometimes,” Palazola said. “You really kind of have to look at the individual case and the facts of each case because there are different tracks that these cases can go down. So, the legislature has given the medical board, as well as most licensing authorities, a lot of different tools that you can use to make sure that when one of our licensees does break the law, and they’re found guilty or plead guilty, that we can take an action. Most of those tools we cannot use until the criminal process has come to an end.”
“You might have a guilty plea, and then it might be a couple of months before the judge signs that guilty plea. And then, there might be a certain amount of time that passes before that individual has to report to prison,” Palazola added.
He said it’s important to remember that the board cannot automatically revoke or suspend someone’s license, regardless of what happened in the courtroom.
Palazola said, “The normal process would be once the board learns there’s been a guilty plea or a finding of guilt by a jury, we will obtain the official court documents and records, and then we have to provide notice to the licensee of the specific violations of the Medical Practice Act and give them an opportunity to be heard.”
The gap between a guilty verdict and the revocation of someone’s license varies based on a number of factors. Palazola said a guilty plea can help speed up the process, but the board still needs time to collect and certify the court documents. In many cases, these documents have to be mailed, which can further slow things down. Email and fax aren’t always an option.
Palazola said tracking down the documents may take weeks. The board also has to notify the provider that they are moving forward with disciplinary action. This usually takes up to 30 days. They also have to set up hearings and gather board members to make sure everyone’s on the same page, so the process can end up taking 60 to 70 days.
What If the Provider Poses an Immediate Danger to the Public?
Palazola added that the Texas Medical Board has the authority to immediately terminate a provider’s license if they can prove they are a threat to the public. He said they normally do this anywhere from 40 to 50 times a year.
To do this, the board has to prove the violation in question was more than likely to occur again and that the provider poses an ongoing threat to patient safety. Things usually move faster when dealing when assault or sexual assault cases, but it’s not usually the case when it comes to fraud. The judge may limit the provider’s ability to practice until the criminal process can play itself out, but proving immediate harm to the public is usually more difficult.
Palazola said that the board can review prior disciplinary action when reviewing a complaint, but they still have to give the provider a chance to respond to the claims before taking away their license.
For now, Dr. Syed is still practicing medicine in Texas even though he is set to report to prison in just a few months.