Patients' Right to Know About Doctors' Crimes

As the legislature begins its final weeks a critical patient safety measure is awaiting its fate.

Senator Jerry Hill and patient safety advocates have worked for years to ensure patients have the right to know if their doctor is on probation for violations that place patient safety at risk.

Hill’s plan would inform patients if their doctor is on probation for cases involving sexual misconduct, criminal conviction involving their practice, or drug or alcohol abuse that affects their patients.

That would mean, for example, cases like that of Dr. Simon Greer, who was on a lengthy probation after his alcohol and drug abuse utlimately led him to attack a friend and patient with an axe. On multiple occasions, Greer refused to submit to the drug and alcohol screening that was a mandatory part of his probation. Greer's license was ultimately revoked, nearly four years after the incident with the axe. 

Even the California Medical Board, which rejected several previous efforts, has embraced disclosure of these most serious offenses.

The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, only to be strangled to near-death by the California Medical Association and Assemblymember Evan Low. The legislature has just a few weeks to make it right.

Patients overwhelmingly support disclosure. A 2016 poll by Consumer Reports found that 82% of patients believe doctors should have to tell their patients that they are on probation, and why. California’s leading newspapers agree.

East Bay Times: Patients should be warned about derelict doctors who are one misstep away from losing their licenses. Instead, no matter their age or computer literacy, patients currently can only access that information by looking up doctors individually on the California Medical Board’s abysmally slow and cumbersome web site.

The doctors’ lobbyists like it that way. They know disclosure at physicians’ offices would chase away patients. So they’d rather leave them in the dark.

Los Angeles Times:  Before you schedule a physical for your teenage daughter, wouldn’t you like to know if her physician has been put on probation by the state medical board for inappropriately touching young female patients? Similarly, wouldn’t you want to know if the surgeon who’s about to operate on you had been sanctioned for operating while under the influence of drugs?

These shouldn’t even be questions.

Sacramento Bee: Of the 137,000 doctors licensed to practice in California, an average of 124 are placed on probation each year. Under Hill’s Senate Bill 798, a third of the problem doctors, perhaps 40, would have to disclose to patients that they’re on probation.

These 40 have been examined by board investigators and deemed to have committed sexual misconduct, abused drugs or alcohol, repeatedly violated probation, or committed crimes involving the practice of medicine, all information patients should know.

It seems the only people who don’t agree are the doctors’ lobby, and a handful of lawmakers who take their campaign money. The California Medical Association and other physician groups have contributed $38,400 to Evan Low over the last two election cycles, as reported by the Bay Area News Group.

Can Assemblymember Low, and the rest of the lawmakers on his committee, rise above venality to embrace a reform that the public, opinion leaders and common sense recommend? Inquiring Californians are eager to know.  

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