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Is Forging a Medical Certificate Illegal?

— December 12, 2023

Ensure a licensed medical doctor with proper qualifications fills out any medical documentation. Don’t attempt to fill out any information yourself that is not truthful.

Medical certificates are essential, providing proof needed for time off work, used in compensation claims, and for the correct allocation of health resources. They form a crucial part of someone’s medical history and are legitimate documents supporting the patients’ claims for various benefits. 

However, they can also be manipulated. Let’s address the legality of these forms and the repercussions of forgery.

What is a medical certificate?

Medical certificates are used by doctors, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare professionals to certify that a patient in their care has received an injury that requires significant recovery time off from work or has undergone a surgical procedure that requires the same. With the growing prominence of telehealth, online medical certificates have become readily accessible.

By law, medical certificates can only be issued by licensed medical professionals who practice in the state where the certificate is issued. Despite this, individuals will sometimes attempt to forge their medical certificates to obtain time off work or other benefits for which they are not entitled. 

Why are medical certificates used?

In addition to acting as a ‘sick note,’ medical certificates are used by government agencies and health authorities to allocate disability funding or other health resources like in-home care nurses.

Is forging a medical certificate illegal?

Yes. Unquestionably and without exception, forging a medical certificate is highly illegal. The certificate’s authenticity can be verified if the certification has been written, dated and signed by a licensed medical professional.

The 831.21 forgery statute of American law lays out the penalties for forging a medical certificate:

Whoever falsely makes, alters, forges or counterfeits any doctor’s certificate or record of examination to an application for a policy of insurance, or knowing such doctor’s certificate or record of examination to be falsely made, altered, forged or counterfeited, shall pass, utter or publish such certificate as true, with intent to injure or defraud any person, shall be deemed guilty of forgery, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by imprisonment in the state penitentiary not exceeding five years, or by fine not exceeding $500.”

However, specific penalties vary by jurisdiction, although the above is an accurate guideline for the penalties you are likely to face for the crime of forging a medical certificate.

Suppose your employer wishes to verify the authenticity of the contents of the medical certificate, they may do so under the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 825.307, which states:

If an employee submits a complete and sufficient certification signed by the health care provider, the employer may not request additional information from the health care provider. However, the employer may contact the health care provider for purposes of clarification and authentication of the medical certification (whether initial certification or recertification) after the employer has given the employee an opportunity to cure any deficiencies as set forth in § 825.305(c).

Forging a medical certificate as a healthcare professional is a serious ethical violation. Alongside criminal responsibility, the healthcare professional in question could likely lose their medical license entirely or, at the very least, have the license suspended for many years.

Why is forging a medical certificate illegal?

Forging a medical certificate is not only highly immoral, but it is also illegal. It undermines the integrity of the medical professional as a whole. It prevents people who need the help allocated to an individual who does not require it from receiving the help they need.

Many negative consequences are associated with the forgery of medical documentation by an individual. Aside from personal trust violations, severe criminal penalties are possible, as well as the possibility of civil litigation, depending on the circumstances of the case.

For example, if an individual defrauded the government for disability benefit payments for which they were not entitled, the government could sue the individual to reimburse those funds.

Numerous people around the country rely on the veracity of their medical certificates to obtain needed care, funding, or equipment. The phrase ‘one bad apple spoils the bunch’ could apply to such forgery as processes may be changed that inadvertently make it more difficult for individuals to obtain medical certificates.

How to avoid forging a medical certificate

Remember, lying on a medical certificate can have severe ramifications beyond illegality, and honesty, particularly regarding your health and well-being, is always the best policy. To avoid forging a medical certificate, it’s crucial to:

1. See a qualified medical professional

One of the easiest and simplest ways to avoid forging or receiving a forged medical certificate is to see a qualified medical professional. While fakes emerge within the medical industry and generally unqualified gurus offer all sorts of medical advice, true medical professionals you can trust are still out there.

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Photo by Negative Space from Pexels

The rise in accessibility to medical care via online consultations with qualified professionals makes it even easier to obtain a medical certificate, even if you cannot see your regular doctor. Check for licensing and qualification information of the doctor you see via an online consultation and only use an approved telehealth service provider that is recognized by the state or federal government.

Telehealth service providers will have licensing documentation readily available upon request for your viewing. If something feels off, run.

2. Do not falsify any information

While it may seem like something trivial to lie about a specific ailment you’re dealing with because it’s not that serious or because it may have a more adverse effect on your diagnosis, remember that lying on medical information forms is not only illegal in many cases, it is also counterproductive.

Falsifying information on medical certificate forms could lead to a misdiagnosis and treatment plan and make the lives and jobs of those trying to care for you even more difficult.

3. Always consult with a trusted registered and accredited medical practitioner

If you’re unsure how best to fill out your medical certificate, asking for assistance is okay. But always ensure you’re consulting with an experienced professional in the field of medical certificate applications and medical information. Or, at the very least, someone you trust to give you good advice on how best to fill out the form.

Summing up

While forging medical documentation can seem like an easy ‘out’ because you’re worried about a diagnosis you could receive if you provide truthful information or have some other more nefarious purpose, know that lying on a medical certificate form is illegal. It’s illegal for you, and it’s illegal for the medical professional you’re seeing to do.

Ensure a licensed medical doctor with proper qualifications fills out any medical documentation. Don’t attempt to fill out any information yourself that is not truthful, such as your name, date of birth, and other basic identifying information. 

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