TMA Weighs in On Court Case Involving PA Collaboration

February 8, 2019

TMA has submitted a motion to file an amicus curia brief in the matter of Norma J. Sparks, PA v. Tennessee Department of Health, Board of Medical Examiners Committee on Physician Assistants pending in the Tennessee Court of Appeals. If TMA’s motion is granted, the Court of Appeals will consider TMA’s brief in making its decision in the case.

The case involves a licensed physician assistant who fell under fire with her licensing board, the Tennessee Committee on Physician Assistants, in February 2017. Sparks, who worked part time in a free clinic in Grundy County after retiring from an unblemished 40 years in practice, was disciplined for failing to register with the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database and for prescribing while being supervised by a physician with no DEA certificate. Sparks carried a valid DEA certificate and infrequently wrote controlled drug prescriptions at the clinic. Her supervising physician did not have a DEA certificate, which is not a requirement in the letter of the law. TMA is seeking to file its brief to address the supervisor DEA issue only. TMA’s concern is a PA, physician, or any health licensee for that matter, being disciplined based on unwritten or unclear grounds.

Sparks appealed to Chancery Court and won; the disciplinary order was reversed on all counts. The Department of Health is currently appealing the Chancery Court’s ruling to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

TMA has long promoted physician-led, team-based healthcare delivery models as the safest and most effective care in Tennessee. The Sparks case has broad implications for doctors who collaborate with PAs and/or other midlevel providers. Physicians expect and deserve clear guidance in terms of prescribing and collaboration requirements, and relative liabilities, and should not be penalized for violating unwritten rules.

In its brief, TMA urges the Tennessee Court of Appeals to force health professional licensing boards to clearly provide notice of the standards of practice to their licensees before taking disciplinary action against them.