How to file a complaint against a doctor

Know the difference between an administrative compliant and medical malpractice.

by Heather R. Johnson
updated March 15, 2023 ·  3min read

When a doctor's or medical provider’s conduct impacts your health or is dangerous or fraudulent, it’s time to file a formal complaint. In addition to understanding how to file an administrative complaint against a physician, patients should know when to bring that complaint to the court of law.

Doctor approaches patient in wheelchair

Whn should you complain about a dDoctor?

A physician who delivers substandard care subjects him or herself to a formal complaint. Such legitimate complaints include but are not limited to:

  • Misdiagnosis
  • Careless treatment that causes you harm
  • An unusual delay in treatment
  • Under- or overprescribing medication
  • Giving you the wrong medication
  • Working under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Sexual misconduct
  • Practicing without a license
  • Altering records 

How to complain about a doctor

Filing a complaint against a doctor with your state’s medical board is usually the first step in bringing disciplinary action against a doctor. Although the particulars vary by state, when the board receives complaints against doctors, it enters them into a system. The board then reviews complaints or refers them to another agency if needed. The medical board may ask to see medical records. If you complain about a doctor, the medical board will not disclose your identity.

Unfortunately, one complaint may not lead to formal discipline against the offending doctor. However, if the medical board or other agency receives multiple complaints against the same physician, they will have good reason to launch a formal investigation.

When a complaint becomes a medical malpractice case

If the complaint is very serious, you may have reason to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Malpractice occurs when a hospital, doctor, or other healthcare professional injures a patient through errors in diagnosis, treatment, or aftercare.

A valid medical malpractice claim must show that the doctor violated a standard of care recognized by law. The patient must prove that the injury wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the doctor’s negligence. The injury must also have caused significant damage, such as sky-high hospital bills, loss of income, and pain and suffering. 

For example, if your knee didn’t heal properly after surgery, but the doctor performed the surgery according to standards of care, he may not have committed medical malpractice. But if you developed shooting pain in your knee after surgery and a follow-up revealed a severed ligament, and the doctor didn’t tell you about it, that may be malpractice.

If you think you have reason to file a medical malpractice lawsuit, consult with an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Medical malpractice cases are usually expensive because of the expert testimony and evidence-gathering required. A lawyer will review your case to determine whether it’s worth pursuing. 

Medical malpractice statute of limitations

The Medical Malpractice Statute of Limitations determines the time you have to file a lawsuit, ranging from one to three years from the date of injury, depending on the state.

If you file a complaint with the medical board and then file suit, know that the medical board can only take administrative action against the doctor’s license to practice medicine. It can’t help you pursue a medical malpractice case. It also can’t disclose any information that it collects during the course of its review with you or your family members.

Medical mistakes can lead to serious injury. If you think your doctor made a serious error in treatment, take action.

Get legal help with matters related to work and residency GET LEGAL HELP
Heather R. Johnson

About the Author

Heather R. Johnson

Heather R. Johnson is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has worked with words for more than 15 years, si… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.