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Should California Doctors Have to Disclose Their Probation Status?

The California Medical Board recently voted down a proposal that would have required doctor to disclose to patients in writing that they have been placed on probation. The Board is now considering a number of alternative disclosure rules.

Currently, California doctors who have been placed on disciplinary probation are not required to notify their patients. While the information is posted online, the website is not well known to patients and can be difficult to navigate.

The lack of disclosure requirements is concerning to us as San Diego medical malpractice lawyers given that physicians can be placed on probation for a number of serious issues, including sexual misconduct and substance abuse. Under the proposal set forth by Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports magazine, doctors would be required to notify patients of probation when they call to make appointments, post a probation notice in the office, and provide a written notice that patients would sign.

In testimony before the Board, Marian Hollingsworth, an activist with the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project, described how she was horrified to discover that she had been referred to a physician who was on probation for substance abuse and had once gone after a patient with a hatchet.

“Probation is not a minor action; it’s a major action,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project. “Every doctor makes mistakes, but these are repeat offenders, not isolated incidents. Their patients need to know, so they can make decisions if they really want to continue with that doctor.”

As of September, 500 of the nearly 131,000 licensed physicians in California were serving probation. In many cases, disciplinary proceedings result in a doctor’s license being revoked. However, the action is often stayed, provided that the physician completes several years of probation. The terms vary in accordance with the offense, such as being unable to see female patients without another person in the room, submitting to mandatory drug testing, or completing ethics classes.

Going forward, the California Medical Board has agreed to convene a task force to consider changes to the current disclosure process.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to medical error, don’t hesitate to contact a San medical negligence attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation. We have more 30 years of experience and are committed to helping you protect your legal rights and pursue the appropriate compensation for your loss.