Physicians have to protect both themselves and their patients when they suspect chemical dependence. Addiction can put someone’s life at risk, but it can also affect the professionals who provide them with care.
Often, patients who abuse prescription medications will engage in medication-seeking behaviors to obtain valid prescriptions for the drugs they prefer. As a physician, you need to be on the lookout for drug-seeking behavior while also keeping the focus on the overall health and well-being of your patients.
You could potentially face either criminal charges or licensing consequences for dispensing medication inappropriately. Unfortunately, under Florida law, you could also face serious consequences for referring a patient out to a specific substance abuse treatment facility. Such behavior could leave the claims of patient brokering.
What is patient brokering?
There is a lot of money to be made in the rehabilitation and substance abuse industry. A significant percentage of the facilities operating in and near Florida are for-profit entities. There have historically been cases of these facilities offering referral rewards and kickbacks to physicians who refer patients to them.
Especially if you have personal or financial ties to a facility or anyone who owns or operates the business, other people may be suspicious of your intentions when referring a patient for care there. Although your only goal may be to connect a patient with the support they need to achieve and maintain sobriety, others may assume that your intentions were personal financial gain or the reinforcement of the relationship you have with the physicians or owners/operators of the facility.
What are the penalties for patient brokering?
Florida has a relatively strict approach to allegations of physicians putting financial gain ahead of patient needs when it comes to rehabilitation referrals. State law prohibits patient brokering and imposes serious penalties.
The criminal charge for patient brokering is a third-degree felony. The penalty could include a fine of $50,000. The fine could go up if the accusations involve more than one patient. The doctor could also face up to five years of incarceration. Their medical license could also be at risk after a conviction.
Understanding the risks of patient brokering charges can help you protect your reputation, your licensing and your freedom.