Dirty Laundry - Public Access to Disciplinary Actions
Reputation is the pillar of good business.  This is especially true
in the dental practices where patients trust practitioners in a very
intimate way.  The Internet—the Queen of Information—can often
make or break a career, as Dr. Fulton learned the hard way in James
Fulton v. The Medical Board of California.  In 2003, Fulton
surrendered his license in a stipulated settlement and the Medical
Board posted this information along with the enforcement actions
taken by other states while he was licensed in California on its
website in accordance with the requirements of the Business and
Professions Code.  He sued in James Fulton v. The Medical Board
of California.  

Even though he was no longer licensed to practice medicine, Dr.
Fulton continued to work in fields closely related to medicine.  He
gave lectures for a pharmaceutical company on topics related to
dermatology.  Advertising materials used in those presentations
attributed the titles of “Dr.” and “M.D.” to Fulton, and referred to his
“35 years of experience as a physician.”  Apparently, several of the
company’s customers complained, citing the information posted on
the Medical Board’s website.  While Fulton was giving a lecture at a
conference in Malaysia, the chairman of the conference reportedly
received an email referring to the Board’s website with the comment
“shame, shame, shame.”  Dr. Fulton was mad and embarrassed:  he
sued the Medical Board and lost.  The court found that the Medical
Board is required to publish information on practitioners, setting an
important precedent with far reaching implications for dentists.

Fulton thought the publication of the actions against him were
unfair, since he no longer held a license.  Is this a catch 22?  Maybe.
He wanted to use his license, but he didn’t want anyone to be able to
check on it.  Dr. Fulton sued the Board on account of lost work
opportunities and public and private embarrassment on the grounds
that the Board shouldn’t publish information “regarding disciplinary
actions against physicians who are no longer licensed by the State.”  
The court, however, found that the Board was acting in accord with its
policy and provisions, and that the specific language of the statute
concerning the online publication of enforcement actions “include
licenses that have been revoked and hence are no longer valid,”
therefore finding it “reasonable to interpret this provision to apply to
former license holders.”  The court found in favor of the Board and
affirmed its right to publish incriminating information related to
medical practitioners.

The prominence of the Internet grants the public unprecedented
access to information concerning dentists’ practices, sometimes with
serious and lasting consequences. It is not only the Board:  many
other social networking sites such as yelp.com provide consumers
with information related to dental practices.  This case reminds us
just how important our reputation as professional is in the field of
dentistry, and how it affects future business prospects.

Often after losing or surrendering a license, dentists will need to
continue to work, and choose to do so in the field they know best.  
Sometimes they become contractors, sometimes supply reps, and
sometimes they hawk products and lecture, among other things;
however, it can get even more personal if a practitioner is disciplined
in any way whatsoever, including a license probation or suspension.  
Such actions can seriously affect a dentist’s ability to be a provider
for insurance plans as well as affect their credibility with patients.  
There is no way of sweeping past wrongs under the carpet anymore,
and proven allegations will remain on the net for all to see.  A few key
strokes on the Dental Board of California’s website reveal the bright
blue heading, “Disciplinary Actions,” leaving a dentist’s
transgressions exposed to anyone with access to the Internet.

The court’s decision illustrates not only the legality, but the actual
requirement of the Dental Board to publish information concerning
dentists.  Such information is readily available to the public and
certainly has a potent effect on work opportunities and practice
credibility.  The court’s ruling affirms that dental practitioners’
disciplinary records will remain public.  No matter how painful it may
be, there is no escaping one’s past.

© Bette Robin, DDS, JD 5/10
Bette Robin                                                                                     714-421-4407
Dentist, Attorney, Real Estate Broker                                                                                                                                      
17482 Irvine Blvd., Ste. E
Tustin, CA  92780