Californian Doctors Have to Tell Patients They’re on Probation
If a Californian practitioner is on probation for patient sexual misconduct, drug abuse, or other charges, he or she will now be required to disclose this status to all of their patients in order to keep their license. The new legislation was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
SB1448, written by state Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), requires licensed physicians to notify their patients if they are on probation for a drug-related offense that has or could cause harm to patients, for sexual misconduct, for having a criminal conviction involving harm to patients, or for an inappropriate prescribing history that has resulted in patient harm. The law applies to doctors who are placed on probation on or after July 1, 2019, and includes a wide range of disciplines. Surgeons, osteopaths, naturopathic doctors, chiropractors, podiatrists, and acupuncturists are also bound to the reporting measures.
Probation can be seen as a way for doctors to resolve legal disputes without having to admit responsibility. In the past, this meant they would be able to continue practicing and their patients may not ever be aware of their status. Of the roughly 140,000 Californian doctors, a small percentage are put on probation by the California Medical Board for these four offenses, according to the state medical board.
In 2016, for example, 68 doctors were put on probation for these four offenses. However, the new law requires only that physicians disclose a shady history involving patients, and this number includes offenses related to individuals other than patients. Therefore, the number required to report would be lower than this. Estimates indicate, on average, roughly 130 Californian physicians are placed on probation each year.
The notification must be made in writing and given to patients before their first appointment, so they can make an objective determination of whether they want to continue seeing the physician. The patient must acknowledge receipt of the notification by signing the document.
Traditionally, physicians have been required to notify their hospital employer and malpractice insurers if they have been placed on probation and the state medical board also discloses the information on its website. However, unless a patient is savvy enough about the system and does his or her research, there’s a chance the patient would never be aware of the doctor’s status.
Lee Harris, president of the Consumer Attorneys of California, said the statute was “a long-overdue fix,” adding, “It’s never made sense that doctors have had to tell their insurance companies, hospitals, and clinics when they are put on probation, but not the people who are most at risk — their patients.”
“It’s a great day for Californians and the movement to increase consumer protections for patients and bring greater transparency to patient-doctor interactions,” Hill said. “Patients have the right to be notified of their doctor’s status, so they can make informed decisions about their care.” He added, “As the testimony of survivors showed, leaving patients in the dark about this critical information makes them vulnerable to abuse.”
Some medical associations opposed the measure. One concern noted was that physicians are now more likely to request administrative hearings to avoid probation, which would increase costs to the medical board.