A Virginia Beach, VA, doctor had his license suspended in early November for his actions related to how he prescribed and monitored strong narcotics. The Virginia Board of Medicine found that Dr. George Herbert Amberman had not properly monitored 18 patients to which he had prescribed narcotic painkillers. One of those patients passed away as a result of an overdose of methadone and diazepam, an anti-anxiety narcotic.
While so far it appears that the only ramification Amberman has faced is the suspension of his license, in practice these types of suspensions often go hand-in-hand with civil litigation. If the Virginia (VA) Board of Medicine went so far as to take away a doctor’s license, then there’s a pretty good chance that medical malpractice is at play.
According to the news report, the specific allegations in Amberman’s case were that he failed to take note of the deceased patient’s drug-seeking behavior. Because of serious issues surrounding drug abuse of prescription pain medications, many states have specific programs to assist doctors identify patients who are trying to get access to these drugs. Virginia has a Prescription Monitoring Program, which Amberman allegedly failed to use in order to get patient substance abuse histories. Other allegations were the failure to use other monitoring approaches—such as urine tests and physical examinations.
Of course, the suspension of a license to practice medicine doesn’t always mean civil liability. For one, the two systems are vastly different. License suspension doesn’t involve the courts; it is an administrative issue taken by the Board of Medicine and without a jury present. The Board of Medicine is examining whether specific statutes governing the practice of medicine have been violated or not. In contrast, a civil lawsuit would involve the courts, likely a jury, and would be examining a broader question of whether the doctor failed to exercise a proper standard of care in treating the patients.
And certainly in this case, if a civil case were to take place, the patient’s own actions and whether he contributed to his own death by abusing prescription drugs would be an issue. But license suspension is a serious indication of a civil liability issue. Doctors who face this punishment may very well have to deal with another consequence of substandard care: compensating the victims of their irresponsible actions.
About the Editors: The Shapiro, Cooper, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, which has offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as pro bono services.