What is a Fictitious Name Permit and when and why do you need one? In this article, we cover some of the most common questions and misconceptions about Fictitious Name Permits, which are required to practice medicine in California under certain names.
1. What is a Fictitious Name Permit, and is it the same as a Fictitious Business Name?
Fictitious Name Permits (“FNP”) are not the same as Fictitious Business Names (sometimes also colloquially referred to as “Doing-Business-As” or “DBA”). FNPs are required by the Medical Board of California (“MBC”), whereas DBAs are required to be filed with the applicable county(ies). Each has distinct criteria. A medical practice may need either an FNP, or a DBA, or even both (see Question 2 below for more on when each is required). In short, an FNP is required any time a practice does business under a name other than the name of a present, prospective or former physician owner.
2. When do you need an FNP and / or DBA?
An FNP is required to use essentially any name other than a physician’s name for any public communication, advertisement, sign or announcement. An FNP is required even if the name to be registered is identical to the practice’s legal name. For example, if a medical corporation “Horizons Medical Practice” does business as Horizons Medical Practice (i.e., its actual legal name), it will need to register its name with the MBC – even though it is doing business under its registered corporate name, the name does not meet the MBC’s criterion of being a physician’s name, and therefore the practice must obtain an FNP.
In contrast, a DBA is generally required when an entity is held out to the public under a name other than its legal name. So, in the example above, Horizons Medical Practice would not need to register a DBA in the counties in which it operates, since the name held out to the public is consistent with the registered corporate name.
Using an alternative example, if the actual legal name of the practice is “Geriatric Medical Services of Alameda County, a Medical Corporation” and it is doing business as “Horizons Medical Practice”, it would need both an FNP and a DBA, since the name “Horizons Medical Practice” neither 1) contains a physician’s name in the practice (for FNP purposes) nor 2) matches the legal name of the entity (for DBA purposes).
3. When do you need to file for an FNP?
As soon as possible! An FNP is required for a practice to hold itself out to the public using a name other than a physician owner’s name. The MBC sometimes takes 6-8 weeks to process FNP applications, and the permit is issued only after the application is processed. In other words, the FNP does not get back-dated to the filing date. Further, there is no option to expedite the FNP filing, so this timeframe can leave practices between a rock and a hard place! Operating without an approved FNP constitutes unprofessional conduct.
Our best advice in terms of expedited filing is to ensure the filing is completed correctly on the first attempt to avoid wasting 6-8 weeks before learning that the MBC has rejected the filing.
4. Filing tips.
Although the FNP application is routine and administrative, it contains a handful of traps for the unwary. Below are a few tips for getting it right:
- Fill in only the appropriate sections (depending on whether the practice is a sole proprietorship, partnership, partnership of corporations, or corporation) and mark other sections “NA” to avoid the temptation of a signatory completing inapplicable sections.
- Include a $70 check (outdated resources are still floating around that indicate a filing fee of $50, but this was changed in 2022) and endorsed Articles of Incorporation with amendments thereto, if applicable.
- MBC requires an actual wet-ink signature, and does not accept DocuSign or even copies of the originally-signed application (although they will accept copies of signatures for filings for Address Change, FNP Cancellation and Partnership or Shareholder Change).File with a cover letter and request a file-stamped copy back (include an additional copy of the filing and a self-addressed pre-paid envelop with your filing).
- Calendar a reminder for 8 weeks out to ensure the filing is processed. The MBC processes thousands of FNP applications and renewals each year, so be diligent in ensuring your filing gets the attention it needs.
Delegating this routine task to a team of advisors who regularly works with MBC and processes FNP applications can save time and resources. This will help to avoid the frustration of receiving a rejected filing back on technical grounds up to 6-8 weeks after submitting an application!
Finally, be sure to update your permit (for new addresses and changes in shareholders / partners), and calendar renewal filings, which are required every 2 years. The MBC sends unique renewal applications to permit holders, so it is important to allow enough time to request a renewal application in the event that yours gets lost in the mail or fails to arrive for any number of other reasons.
 See California Business and Professions Code §§ 2285 (prohibiting the use of fictitious names unless excepted), 2415 (authorizing the use of FNPs) and 16 CCR § 1344 (restricting name styles of professional corporations except where FNP has been obtained). Mere entity indicators, such as “Inc.” or “a Professional Corporation” do not trigger FNP requirements. For example, the practice name “Bryan Lanfranco Ferreyra, M.D., Incorporated” does not require an FNP.