Senator Looks After Patients While Medical Board Looks the Other Way

The California Medical Board had one job to do when it came to protecting patients from doctors on probation: Make it easier for patients to know. The Board failed, and now state Senator Jerry Hill is trying to rectify that error by proposing legislation. 

SB 1033 would force the Board to require a physician or surgeon to disclose to their probationary status to patients before each visit while the physician or surgeon is on probation under specified circumstances, including the board finding the physician or surgeon committed gross negligence or the physician or surgeon having been on probation repeatedly.  

The bill was introduced after the Medical Board turned down a similar proposal by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, to require patient notification in such cases.

“Californians have a right to know when their doctor has been put on probation for serious offenses that could put patients at risk,” said Lisa McGiffert, manager of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project. “This bill will ensure that Californians get the notice they deserve about doctors with a history of misconduct that could jeopardize their health.”
There are about 600 California doctors on probation for offenses including substance abuse, sexual misconduct or medical negligence, and last year, the Medical Board created a patient notification taskforce after consumer advocates said that the current system makes it extremely difficult for patients to find that information. Despite strong opposition from the California Medical Association, board members appeared to be open to a more transparent system.
Unfortunately, in January, the task force refused to consider even a scaled-back proposal to require disclosure by doctors placed on probation for only the most serious of offenses, such as sexual abuse of a patient, self-prescribing narcotics, or gross negligence that resulted in a patient’s death.
Instead, the Board fell back on its failed model of placing the burden on patients to investigate their doctors. The task force spent most of its time discussing how to improve its website – where physician disciplinary actions can be found by the most determined investigators – and public education about how to find the website. 
The mission of the Medical Board of California is to protect health care consumers, but all too frequently, it stumbles before fulfilling that mission. California lawmakers will now have a chance to force the Board to do its job.  

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