Has Eliminating Anonymous Complaints Taken the Air Out of Whistleblowers?

In September 2011, Texas enacted a law prohibiting anonymous complaints to the Texas Medical Board (TMB). Whether the new law has dissuaded people from filing complaints about medical professionals requires further examination.

In 2011, the last year anonymous complaints were allowed, 8,182 complaints were filed with the TMB. In 2012, the first year after anonymous complaints were prohibited, 7,550 complaints were filed. In 2011, the TMB took disciplinary actions against 534 physicians. In 2012, only 327 disciplinary actions were entered.

Texas Medical Board Complaints

The legislative changes eliminating anonymous complaints to the TMB became fully effective in December 2011. Although complaints are anonymous, the identity of complainants will be revealed to the TMB only. If the complainant is an insurer or pharmaceutical company, its details will be given to the physician about whom the complaint is filed.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that in 2010, only four percent of the 6,849 complaints to the TMB were anonymous.

Advantages and disadvantages of anonymous complaints

Some speculate that requiring complainants to attach their names to complaints to the TMB will dissuade people from whistleblowing. One patient, who recently filed a complaint, said that people might fear facing repercussions such as criminal actions faced by the Winkler County nurses.

In 2009, two nurses filed an anonymous complaint against a doctor at Winkler County Memorial Hospital. The doctor contacted the local sheriff, who happened to be a friend. Although all charges against the nurses were dismissed, the damage was already done.

On the other hand, lawmakers and other activists applaud the new law and discount any concerns about people being dissuaded from filing complaints. The attorney for the Texas Nurses Association called the law a decent compromise because most anonymous complaints are never truly anonymous when the complaint’s fact pattern is reviewed. Both of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s and Internal Revenue Service’s whistleblower programs allow anonymous complaints.

If you have witnessed negligent treatment provided by a physician and want to report it to the TMB, it is recommended that you consult with a Texas whistleblower lawyer who may help advise you of your rights.