After getting approval from a California senate committee, a bill that would require doctors to disclose to their patients if they are on probation for serious offenses, is moving forward. The legislation, SB-1033, written by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) would require various types of physicians to tell their patients about their probation before an appointment.
Current law requires physicians and podiatrists to notify hospitals and malpractice insurers of their probation status, but patients do not need to be notified. Though this information is available on the California BreEZe website, it is very difficult to find what you are looking for. For those that are not tech savvy or do not have internet access, this information may not at all be accessible.
The New Bill: SB-1033
Written by Senator Jerry Hill, the proposed legislation would require physicians on probation to inform their patients before an appointment. In writing, providers would need to notify patients if they have been placed on probation by the Medical Board, Osteopathic Board, Podiatry Board, Acupuncture Board, or the Board of Chiropractic Examiners for serious offenses. These offenses include, but may not be limited to:
- Gross negligence
- Sexual misconduct
- Substance abuse
- Repeated inappropriate/excessive prescribing of medications
- Felony conviction(s) related to patient care
The bill proposes that doctors on probation would be required to get a signed receipt from patients to verify that they had been informed. The bill would also require that with each order of probation, as well as any other communications to the public, that a plain-language summary be made available explaining why the doctor has been disciplined, the length and end date, and any practice restrictions that may have been imposed.
Opposition from the California Medical Association
The California Medical Association (CMA) opposes some of the provisions of the bill because they feel that the patient notification process could be bad for business, or hinder the patient-doctor relationship. Even though people may have trouble finding the information, because the information is available online, the CMA feels that this is a “duplicative burden” that could interfere with patient care. However, 82 percent of U.S. adult respondents of a 2016 Consumer Reports survey favor the idea of doctors being required to tell patients they are on probation and the reason.
The CMA thinks that this bill could also undermine physicians’ due process rights and severely restrict a doctor’s ability to practice, but what about the patients’ right to have enough information to make a well-informed choice regarding their own health care and providers? These doctors already have to disclose their probationary status to hospitals and malpractice insurers. Why not to their future patients as well?
At any given time, there is an average of 500-600 of California’s 137,000 licensed physicians that are on probation for serious offenses. This is less than one percent of the total active licensed population. While the number of doctors affected is not very high, the number of patients affected by these doctors’ actions is in the tens of thousands.
Repeat-offenders repeat offenses
The California Research Bureau found that doctors that had been sanctioned for serious offenses were much more likely to be disciplined in the future when compared to doctors that were not sanctioned. In fact, the Medical Board of California (MBC) found that 17 percent of 444 doctors, who were practicing while on probation from 2011-2013, either required further discipline or surrendered their licenses while on probation.
For this reason especially, patients should be proactively notified if their doctors are on probation. In 2002, Tina Minasian, a Sacramento resident, underwent a botched plastic surgery procedure. It was not until after the surgery went horribly wrong that she learned her doctor was on probation with the MBC. He had been struggling with alcohol abuse. Seven years after her surgery, and hurting other patients, the doctor had his license revoked. She has stated numerous times that if she had known that he was on probation and had an alcohol abuse issue, she would have never chosen him to be her doctor.
Not only did Minasian have to deal with the physical pain association with her surgery and recovery, she also had to deal with the emotional trauma of a smear campaign directed towards her, as well as learning the extent of the substance abuse issues of her doctors, after the procedure. Her doctor had a history of alcohol abuse and DUI arrests. One of the arrests was actually on his way to the hospital to treat a patient. He also already had been in a confidential substance abuse monitoring program, which had kept him from being disciplined.
With 82 percent of consumers favoring doctors being required to inform you of their probation status, it is obvious that there needs to be some type of legislative change. If patients cannot trust their doctors, how are they supposed to trust the boards that license and protect those same doctors? “Physicians are already required to inform hospitals and malpractice insurers of their probation status but their clients have to seek out the information for themselves,” Sen. Hill stated when he introduced this bill in February. “Patients have just as great, if not a greater, right to be informed.”