Texas Office of Patient Protection Established

Ronald L. Scott

Texas House Bill 2985 passed during the 78th regular legislative session requires the Health Professions Council (HPC) to establish an office of patient protection by January 2004.  The new office will act as an ombudsman to assist health care consumers who wish to file complaints against licensed health care professionals. Currently, patients wishing to file a complaint against a health care provider must first determine which licensing agency has jurisdiction over the particular professional, not an easy task given the myriad of licensing agencies.

For example, few consumers would easily recognize the practice of medical physics, which “assure[s] the correct quality, quantity, and placement of radiation during the performance of a radiological procedure prescribed by a practitioner that will protect the patient and others from harmful excessive radiation.”  See http://www.tdh.state.tx.us/hcqs/plc/physics.htm.  (The Texas Board of Licensure for Professional Medical Physicists adopts rules to regulate the practice of medical physics in the State of Texas.) See id.

The proliferation of state health care licensing agencies is impressive.  The HPC is comprised of separate agencies regulating chiropractors, dentists, physicians, podiatrists, nurses, vocational nurses, optometrists, pharmacists, physical therapists, psychologists, veterinarians and others.  For links to each of these agencies, see http://www.hpc.state.tx.us/.  Each of these agencies has a different complaint process, different forms, etc.  H.B. 2985 directs the Office of Patient Protection (OPP) to establish a standard complaint form in cooperation with the licensing agencies and requires the licensing agencies to accept the form “in addition to any other form required by the agency.”  See Tex. Occ. Code § 101.304.

The OPP is also directed to conduct a public awareness campaign advising consumers of a newly established telephone complaint system and to provide information to the public about complaint procedures and sanctions processes. See id. Further, the OPP will monitor and evaluate agencies handling of consumer complaints and provide recommendations to the legislature regarding changes in the agencies’ procedures that “would positively affect the interest of consumers.”  The OPP is funded by an increase in licensing fees charged by the licensing agencies.

Although the OPP will act as an ombudsman for individual consumers in dealing with the various licensing agencies, it is prohibited from appealing an individual complainant’s case before any agency.  See Tex. Occ. Code § 101.305.   However, the OPP may appear or present information or testimony to an agency on behalf of consumers as class, defined as “five or more individuals whose complaints are of the same or similar regulatory and factual circumstances and issues.”  See Tex Occ. Code §§ 101.301, 101.304.  The OPP may even appeal decisions of licensing agencies to the appropriate governing body of an agency on behalf of consumers as a class. Although the OPP is still in the process of establishing the standard complaint form, they have already established a toll free number for information about the complaint process.  Aggrieved consumers can call 1-800-821-3205 or visit the OPP website at http://www.hpc.state.tx.us/.   The OPP has the potential to provide a real service to Texas health care consumers.