State Says Doctors Don't Have to Tell Patients They Are on Probation

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Around 500 of California’s 130,000 doctors are on probation for one indiscretion or another at any given moment, but good luck finding out about it from them.

The Medical Board of California rejected a petition (pdf) from Consumers Union to make doctors on probation give patients the same information they must provide to hospitals and insurance companies. But the board will think about it. First, they want a task force to investigate some of the issues raised.

Lisa McGiffert, manager of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project, explained their main issue thusly: “Californians deserve to know when their doctor is on probation for a serious offense that could put their health at risk.”

Doctors on probation have often had their licenses technically revoked, but the action has been stayed until their penalty time lapses. Offenses can include drug abuse, medical negligence and sexual misconduct.

Patient advocate Marian Hollingsworth wrote an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee describing her experience while preparing for a medical procedure:

“I was stunned to learn that the doctor I had been referred to for a routine colonoscopy was about to start a 30-day suspension and seven-year probation. He had a long history of substance abuse and DUIs, but what finally got the board’s attention is that he went after a patient with a hatchet in an alcohol-fueled rage.”  

Patients can find out about a doctor’s status—although not as detailed as Hollingsworth’s information—by visiting the medical board’s website. It has a license verification portal into the BreEZe database operated by its parent, the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).

Consumers Union doesn’t consider the website to be user friendly or the information easy to understand. Users must have the exact spelling of the doctor’s name, although some doctors use variations of their name in different settings. There is concern that older, poorer, English-challenged, less tech savvy patients are at a disadvantage.

McGiffert said Consumers Union was “pleased that the Medical Board acknowledged today that it must address these shortcomings and do a better job informing the public about problem doctors.”

Since everyone now agrees that it is important for all patients to have the information, the debate can focus on why just giving it to them is a bad idea.

The California Medical Association, which represents around 40,000 physicians, thinks it’s a bad idea because the exchange of information would damage the patient-doctor relationship and take up time better used for treatment.

Consumer Union wants patients to be told of a doctor’s probationary status when they call for an appointment. They want a written disclosure when the patient shows up. The doctor would have to log the notifications and post a disclosure statement on the wall of the office.  

Consumers Union told the Bee that it was unaware of any other state with mandatory notification of probation.

–Ken Broder       


To Learn More:

In California, Doctors on Probation Not Required to Tell You. Should They? (by Lisa Fine, KQED)

California Medical Board Takes Action on Consumers Union’s Doctors on Probation Petition (Consumers Union)

California Rejects Call to Force Doctors on Probation to Inform Patients (by Stephanie O'Neill, KPCC)

Your Doctor’s on Probation: Should You Be Told? (by Claudia Buck, Sacramento Bee)

State Medical Board Won't Require Doctors on Probation to Tell Their Patients (by Paul Sisson, Los Angeles Times)

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