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California Patients Should Be Notified About Unsafe Doctors

If your doctor had committed a serious transgression, wouldn’t you want to know about it? Under existing California law, doctors are not required to notify their patients when they have been placed on probation by the Medical Board of California. Thankfully, that could soon change.

Legislative Efforts to Require Patient Notification

In order to make informed decisions about their healthcare, patients must have access to key information about their doctors. The Medical Board of California posts information regarding doctors on probation on its website. However, significant gaps still exist for patients to be fully informed about disciplinary action taken against their physician.

Last year, the Medical Board of California rejected a proposal by Consumers Union to require doctors to notify patients of disciplinary action. In addition, legislation that would have required doctors to proactively notify their patients when they have been put on probation for serious offenses, such as sexual misconduct, substance abuse, gross negligence, or a felony conviction related to patient care and treatment, failed to pass.

Pressure is again mounting for California lawmakers to pass legislation that would require doctors to inform their patients when they have been disciplined by the Medical Board. Last month, a legislative report revealed that there are currently 635 physicians on probation in California. Of those, 44 practice in San Diego County. The Senate committee report also recommends that existing regulations should be amended so “that patients receive timely notification of their physician’s probationary status.”

New Bill Eliminates Possibility of Probation for Certain Violations

Even after committing serious violations, California doctors are frequently allowed to keep their medical licenses and continue to treat unsuspecting patients. Recently introduced legislation would make probation unavailable for certain transgressions.

Specifically, Assembly Bill Number 505 provides that the Medical Board of California may not enter into any stipulation for disciplinary action, which includes placing a licensee on probation, if the operative accusation includes any of the following:

  • Felony conviction involving harm to patient safety or health
  • Drug or alcohol abuse directly resulting in harm to patient safety or health
  • Sexual act or sexual exploitation

The California Medical Association supports the new bill, which would require doctors facing any of the above charges to go through the court process rather than the Board’s administrative process. “This will protect due process but allow the medical board to appropriately discipline bad actors and protect California patients,” the Association said.

Patient safety advocates maintain that the bill does not go far enough to protect the public from potentially dangerous doctors. We agree. Assembly Bill 505 lacks any patient notification provision. Accordingly, patients whose doctors face serious charges not listed in the legislation will still be left in the dark.

The lack of patient notification is particularly concerning considering that studies show that physicians who have received serious sanctions in the past are far more likely to face additional disciplinary action in the future. In addition, many patients, including vulnerable groups like seniors, don’t regularly use the Internet and, therefore, have no way to access important safety information about their doctors.

If you or someone you love has suffered serious harm due to a serious medical mistake, please contact a San Diego medical malpractice attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.