California Senate to Vote on Bill Requiring Doctors on Probation to Notify Patients

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Patient Notification Requirement Is Part Of Must-Pass Medical Board Sunset Bill

May 30, 2017

SACRAMENTO, CA – The California Senate is expected to vote on a bill this week to require some doctors who have been put on probation by the Medical Board of California for dangerous misconduct to notify their patients.  Nearly 600 doctors in the state are on probation for a variety of offenses and are allowed to continue practicing medicine while on probation.  Doctors on probation are currently required to disclose their disciplinary status to the hospitals where they work and their malpractice insurers, but they have no obligation to inform their patients.

“Californians deserve to know when their doctor has been put on probation for offenses that could put patient lives at risk,” said Lisa McGiffert, director of Consumers Union’s Safe Patient Project.   “But most patients have no idea when their doctor has been disciplined by the Medical Board.  Notifying patients is particularly important since research has shown that many doctors who have been disciplined turn out to be repeat offenders.  This bill will help ensure Californians are better informed by requiring patient notification for some of the most serious cases of doctor misconduct.”

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.  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.

Consumers Union strongly supports this provision of SB 798, the Medical Board Sunset bill sponsored by Senator Jerry Hill (San Mateo).  Under the bill, physicians on probation would be required to notify their patients if they have been disciplined for sexual misconduct, drug or alcohol abuse while treating patients, a criminal conviction involving the practice of medicine, or if they have been previously ordered on probation.  The bill also gives the Medical Board the authority to require patient notification for any violation resulting in probation when it determines it would be appropriate to inform patients.   In addition, the bill requires better disclosure of a physician’s licensure status on the Medical Board’s website.

Senator Hill sponsored legislation last year that would have required patient notification for a wider range of disciplinary offenses, but that bill failed to win enough support in the Senate following intense opposition by the California Medical Association.  This year’s proposal is supported by the Medical Board of California, which had previously resisted efforts to require patient notification, and is part of the Sunset legislation needed to reauthorize the Medical Board.

Contact:  Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org, 415-431-6747, ext 7606