Senator Hill introduces bill to require doctors on probation to notify patients

Experts

Campaign Director, Consumers Union

February 12, 2016

SB 1033 Protects Patients’ Right to Know About Doctors With a History of Misconduct 

SACRMENTO, CA – Senator Jerry Hill proposed legislation today that would require doctors to notify their patients when they have been put on probation by the Medical Board of California for serious misconduct.  SB 1033 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.”

Approximately 600 doctors in the state are currently on probation, many for a variety of serious offenses.  While these doctors are required to disclose their probationary status to hospitals where they work and malpractice insurers, they have no obligation to inform their patients.

Under Senator Hill’s bill, doctors would be required to notify their patients when they have been put on probation for serious offenses, including gross negligence, repeated acts of inappropriate or excessive prescribing of medication, and drug or alcohol abuse that threatens the doctor’s ability to practice safely.  Doctors who are repeatedly on probation will also have to notify their patients.  The bill requires doctors on probation to obtain a signed receipt from patients verifying that they have been informed.  And it requires the Board to include in each order of probation a plain-language summary describing why the doctor has been disciplined, the length and end date of the probation, and any practice restrictions that have been imposed.

During the debate over Consumers Union’s petition last fall, members of the Medical Board noted that most patients are unaware when their doctor has been put on probation but maintained that requiring notification would create a burden and damage the doctor-patient relationship.  Instead, the Board plans to launch a public outreach campaign about how Californians can check its website to find out whether a doctor is on probation.

However, the Board has acknowledged that it has limited funds to carry out this outreach effort, calling into question how effective it will be.  In addition, Consumers Union detailed a number of concerns in its original petition about the technical nature of the information available on the Medical Board’s website and how many Californians won’t benefit since they have limited access to the internet.

“The burden shouldn’t be on patients to find out whether their doctor has been put on probation,” said McGiffert.  “Doctors withholding this information from their patients — and the Medical Board’s attitude that this is the unknowing patient’s responsibility, not the doctor’s — is the worst kind of violation of doctor-patient trust.”

Notifying patients is particularly important since many doctors who have been disciplined turn out to be repeat offenders.  The California Research Bureau found that doctors who have been sanctioned by the Medical Board for serious offenses are far more likely to be disciplined in the future than doctors who have not been sanctioned.  Indeed, the Medical Board’s own research reached the same conclusion.  It found that 17 percent of the 444 doctors who were actively practicing while on probation during FY 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 required additional discipline or surrendered their licenses while on probation.  By comparison, similar research has found that less than 1 percent of doctors who were unsanctioned were subsequently disciplined during a follow-up period studied.

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Contact:  Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org415-431-6747, ext 7606 (office) or 415-902-9537 (cell)